Andrew Lam was born May 23, 1963, in Saigon, Vietnam. His father, descended from wealthy landowners in the Mekong Delta, served as a general in the South Vietnamese Army. His mother, from a small rural village in northern Vietnam, fled south in 1954 to escape communist rule.
Growing up, Lam enjoyed the privileges of his father's money and status. The family retained servants and occupied beautiful villas, traveling frequently throughout South Vietnam to accommodate military assignments. The youngest of three children, Lam was a self-proclaimed bookworm. War, however, remained a constant part of the background. In his essay “A Child's View, ” Lam recalls crouching in a bomb shelter during the 1968 Tet Offensive: “I remember bursts of gunfire and random explosions that left horrible echoes like thunder, yet they did not drown out the shouts of soldiers and the shrieks of women and children in other houses.”
On April 28, 1975, two days before the North Vietnamese Army took control of Saigon, eleven-year-old Lam escaped with his mother, grandmother, sister, and brother on a crowded cargo plane. They passed through refugee camps in Guam and California before settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. Lam's father, who had stayed behind in Saigon determined to fight off the communists, finally left Vietnam by boat on April 30. It would be several months before the family was reunited.
As a teenager, Lam attended public schools in the Bay Area. He then enrolled at the University of California-Berkeley, graduating in 1986 with a biochemistry degree. After two years working at a cancer research lab, Lam quit to pursue a writing career. He studied creative writing at San Francisco State