From Giller Prize winner, internationally acclaimed, and bestselling author Vincent Lam comes a superbly crafted, highly suspenseful, and deeply affecting novel set against the turmoil of the Vietnam War.
Percival Chen is the headmaster of the most respected English school in Saigon. He is also a bon vivant, a compulsive gambler and an incorrigible womanizer. He is well accustomed to bribing a forever-changing list of government officials in order to maintain the elite status of the Chen Academy. He is fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, and quick to spot the business opportunities rife in a divided country. He devotedly ignores all news of the fighting that swirls around him, choosing instead to read the faces of his opponents at high-stakes mahjong tables. But when his only son gets in trouble with the Vietnamese authorities, Percival faces the limits of his connections and wealth and is forced to send him away. In the loneliness that follows, Percival finds solace in Jacqueline, a beautiful woman of mixed French and Vietnamese heritage, and Laing Jai, a son born to them on the eve of the Tet offensive. Percival's new-found happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further and further into his world, he must confront the tragedy of all he has refused to see.
Blessed with intriguingly flawed characters moving through a richly drawn historical and physical landscape, The Headmaster's Wager is a riveting story of love, betrayal and sacrifice.
Lam's latest (after Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures) is a masterfully paced exploration of a world convulsed by war, wherein faith and reason no longer hold sway. Percival Chen, an affluent Chinese English instructor in late 1960s Saigon, is determined to escape the politics of war-torn Vietnam, profiting from the sidelines instead. He instructs his son, Dai Jai, to remain faithful only to their Chinese heritage, not realizing that even this allegiance has become a deadly liability. Obeying his father's edict, Dai Jai is arrested by Vietnamese authorities, and Percival exhausts his shady connections in his attempts to rescue Dai Jai from the brutality of the police. Meanwhile, Percival falls in love with Jacqueline a mixed-race prostitute with ulterior motives despite the objections of his loyal friend Mak, a man embroiled in his own mysterious affairs. Lam marshals his characters with humor, suspense, and tenderness as the fall of Saigon looms. Even as Percival navigates the minefield of shifting ideologies, treachery, and paranoia incurring one inconceivable cost upon another his devotion suffuses every page. Lam depicts a world caught in an implacable cycle of violence, leavened only by the grace of a father's love.
The Headmasters Wager
I enjoyed learning about the culture and history.
The Headmaster's Wager
I could not put this book down.
It gave me a new perspective on Vietnam and wars.
It was written with wonderful details to that era.
A must read.