The Headmaster's Wager

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The Headmaster's Wager

by Vincent Lam

Doubleday Canada | April 24, 2012 | Hardcover

The Headmaster's Wager is rated 4 out of 5 by 8.
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.

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 400 pages, 9.53 × 6.59 × 1.35 in

Published: April 24, 2012

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385661452

ISBN - 13: 9780385661454

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

Rated 3 out of 5 by from good, but also disappointing Vincent Lam's descriptions of wartime Vietnam were vivid and relentless, making this a great read for anyone who adores being steeped in historical and cultural richness. If, however, you rely heavily on an interesting plot to keep you reading, I wouldn't recommend this book. Despite being set in a beautifully chaotic time and place, for me the plot was boring and repetitive. It was only in the last few chapters that I found myself drawn to keep reading. The ending I have to admit was masterfully crafted, but I wish I had felt that same excitement from the beginning of what had been for me a long anticipated read.
Date published: 2014-07-28
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great story Mr. Lam’s first novel is a fiction inspired by his own family history. At the heart is the story of Chen Pie Sou, also known as Percival, the headmaster of the prestigious Percival Chen English Academy in Cholon, a small city near Saigon. This character is loosely based on Mr. Lam’s grandfather It begins in Shantou China in 1930 but the story does not linger there and soon we are transported to Vietnam in 1966. Like many others before him Chen left China in search of the so-called Gold Mountain and following the brutal Japanese occupation ended up with his new wife in Vietnam. Once there he attempted to achieve stability but his beliefs in his Chinese superiority resulted in repercussions for his son,Dai Jai, being accused of political indiscretions and sent to China on the eve of the Culture Revolution only to return by way of the North Vietnam some years later….Meanwhile Chen finds relief in his lover, a métisse he won at a game of mah-jong and makes secrets dealing with his loyal friend Mak…. This is a fast-paced portrait, a genuine page-turner full of melodrama, intrigue and surprises. It is told chronologically in the third person from the protagonist perspective. Chen is not really a likable character, he is an apolitical businessman only concerned in turning a profit and maintaining his cultural purity but this is what makes him very interesting and wonderfully human. With the War as backdrop, its secret police and theatrical politic “The Headmaster’s Wager” can only be rich in historical details although the author may have taken some liberties with his story. Nicely written this novel is a delight to read.
Date published: 2013-08-31
Rated 4 out of 5 by from I Wager You'll Enjoy The Headmaster's Wager Really, the only thing I have to say about this book was that it was a lovely, well written literary novel with intriguing characters and a fascinating look at some of Vietnam's more recent history.The following recommendations are for those of you who enjoy excellent literary novels with a dash of historical elements, but not an overdose.
Date published: 2013-06-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A great page turner The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam is a great page turner. The story of Percival Chen, an expatriate Chinese, the headmaster of the best English academy in Viet Name, is fascinating. The protagonist is well developed with many characteristics, a dutiful son and loving father, an educator who believes in fate and worships ancestral spirits, and a lucky gambler. The plot intrigues the reader. Percival’s life is full of dramatic moments: a student in Hong Kong flees the Sino-Japanese war to Vietnam with his newlywed wife; an expat wants to return to China, but never gets a chance; a risk taker saves his son arrested by the “quite” police; as a target of the Viet Cong, the headmaster narrowly escapes from being murdered because of the birth of his son/grandson; he loves Jacqueline, a métisse, but can’t marry her; he eagerly has his teenaged son smuggler into China at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution to avoid him from being enlisted in the Southern Vietnamese army, but wants him to return home badly. His loyal friend has to torture him in order to help him. A lot of suspense and surprises are built in the storyline and makes the reader want to know: Does his son return from China? Can Jacqueline and her son flee the Viet Gong’s takeover? Percival’s refusal of learning the Vietnamese language and teaching the language in his school after living in Vietnam for a long time rings true sadly. The novel covers the Vietnam War era, but from an inside angle. Percival’s life is damaged by the Viet Cong and has to find a way out of there. The open ending does not only gives the reader room to imagine, but also hints for another interesting novel.:-) I’m looking forward to it.
Date published: 2013-01-08
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Stunning An epic story of a Chinese man, the headmaster of an English school in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. A fascinating and horrifying snapshot of the life of a civilian in those years of war and turmoil, a man who is himself an immigrant in a country occupied by Americans. A complex love story, a heart-rending family saga ... all told in spare, perfect prose. Compelling: I lost sleep reading this novel. Highly, highly, highly recommended.
Date published: 2012-07-09
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Worth the wait Vincent won the Giller prize over 5 years ago, and this accomplished novel shows he has been busy. Rich in atmosphere and character plus you learn about a country that is fascinating . Definitely worth the wait.
Date published: 2012-06-12
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Disappointing! Story Description: Doubleday Canada | April 24, 2012 | Hardcover|ISBN 978-0-385-66145-4 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 Percival Chen English Academy. Fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, he is 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 mah-jong tables. But when his son, Dai Jai, get into trouble with the Vietnamese authorities, Percival must face 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 verge of the Tet Offensive. Percival’s newfound happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further and further into this 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. My Review: Vincent Lam’s novel The Headmaster’s Wager seemed to be a bit slow and I had a hard time keeping my mind from wondering off and thinking of other things, then would have to come back and re-read the paragraph. However, the story did seem to pick-up somewhat after he meets Jacqueline and has a son with her and a surprise I never expected. All in all, I could easily have given this book a pass.
Date published: 2012-06-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Already the best book of 2012 Vincent Lam's novel, The Headmaster's Wager, is like a painting. The beginning starts off, not exactly slowly, but as a base coat, layering the story with details that will become more important as the narrative builds, until the end result is a piece of art that is complex and compelling, a masterpiece in every sense. The novel follows the life of Percival Chen, Chinese headmaster of an English school in South Vietnam in the years before and after the Vietnam war. All around him is turmoil, conflicting forces of colonization, Communism, nationalism, invasion and resistance. Every move he makes is carefully watched by all around him, yet he convinces himself he can remain untouched by all of it by remaining apolitical, focused solely on business and on family, and sometimes by being wilfully ignorant. It is a wager he makes on a daily basis, that greasing all the right palms with lucky red envelopes of bribe money will save him and his family from the perils of being a foreigner in a rapidly changing Vietnam. He is a man who is not afraid of a wager, routinely gambling away his fortune at high stakes mah-jong tables. But when his son's antics attract the attention of the so-called "quiet police" Headmaster Chen finds himself caught in a series of circumstances that will lead him to a high stakes gamble that will alter the course of his life. This novel is genius. If you told me that it was the tenth novel of a highly respected, award winning novelist I would believe it. It reminds me of the work of Amy Tan, not just because it is written by a North American writer about Chinese history, but because the level of craftsmanship and storytelling is so high. And this guy is a doctor. A real, medical doctor. He's already very good at something amazing. He can write too? It's not like finding out that some mediocre actor also has a mediocre rock band. It's like finding out that Geena Davis is a member of Mensa and almost made the U.S. Olympic team for archery. What the what--?!? When I read Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures I was impressed (blown away actually) by Vincent Lam's skill as a fiction writer, but I figured since it was a collection of stories about being a medical student and a doctor in Canada, maybe it wasn't so much of a stretch. The Headmaster's Wager, on the other hand, is in a whole different league. It's absolute genius. Oh, and his other credits include writing something called The Flu Pandemic and You, for which he won an award from the American Medical Writers Association, and a biography of Canadian hero Tommy Douglas. At this rate, I'm almost afraid Vincent Lam won't have another novel, since maybe he feels he's mastered that now and will be moving on to, say, children's books or cookbooks (both of which I would buy, by the way). One thing is for certain. If you ever meet Vincent Lam, you should probably ask him to build you some furniture or teach you sign language or something. Even if he's never done it before, odds are he's a genius at that too. For more reviews, please visit my blog, CozyLittleBookJournal. Disclaimer: I received a digital galley of this book free from the publisher from NetGalley. I was not obliged to write a favourable review, or even any review at all. The opinions expressed are strictly my own.
Date published: 2012-05-30

– More About This Product –

The Headmaster's Wager

by Vincent Lam

Format: Hardcover

Dimensions: 400 pages, 9.53 × 6.59 × 1.35 in

Published: April 24, 2012

Publisher: Doubleday Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0385661452

ISBN - 13: 9780385661454

Read from the Book

1930, Shantou, China On a winter night shortly after the New Year festivities, Chen Kai sat on the edge of the family kang, the brick bed. He settled the blanket around his son.   “Gwai jai,” he said. Well-behaved boy. “Close your eyes.”   “Sit with me?” said Chen Pie Sou with a yawn. “You promised . . .”   “I will.” He would stay until the boy slept. A little more delay. Muy Fa had insisted that Chen Kai remain for the New Year celebration, never mind that the coins from their poor autumn’s harvest were almost gone. What few coins there were, after the landlord had taken his portion of the crop. Chen Kai had conceded that it would be bad luck to leave just before the holiday and agreed to stay a little longer. Now, a few feet away in their one-room home, Muy Fa scraped the tough skin of rice from the bottom of the pot for the next day’s porridge. Chen Kai smoothed his son’s hair. “If you are to grow big and strong, you must sleep.” Chen Pie Sou was as tall as his father’s waist. He was as big as any boy of his age, for his parents often accepted the knot of hunger in order to feed him.   “Why . . .” A hesitation, the choosing of words. “Why must I grow big and strong?” A fear in the tone, of his father’s absence.   “For your ma, and your ba.” Chen Kai tousled his son’s hair. “For China.”   La
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From the Publisher

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.

About the Author

DR. VINCENT LAM is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, and was born in Canada. Dr. Lam did his medical training and is an emergency physician in Toronto. He is a Lecturer with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto. He has also worked in international air evacuation and expedition medicine on Arctic and Antarctic ships. Dr. Lam''s first book, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, won the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has recently been adapted for television and broadcast on HBO Canada. Dr. Lam co-authored The Flu Pandemic and You, a non-fiction guide to influenza pandemics.

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com - Best 100 Books of 2012 Amazon.ca - Best 100 Books of 2012 Shortlisted for the Commonwealth Book Prize “Lam has created a genuine page-turner. The author takes full advantage of the inherent suspense as the fall of Saigon looms and Chen finally realizes that he and his family may not survive the violence of the Viet Cong. The Headmaster’s Wager is a novel full of surprises and excitement.” — Quill & Quire   “I love this book''s vivid realization and its deft weave of conspiracies. I especially admire Lam''s ability to transport a reader. . . . A colourful, suspenseful depiction of Chinese living in Vietnam during the war.” — The Globe and Mail   “Lam writes tellingly about intrigue, political collusion and the clash of cultures.” — Kirkus Reviews   “With the deft use of dreams and flashbacks, Lam fills in the family back-story without losing the forward momen­tum of the gripping political tale that echoes the intrigues of Dr. Zhivago and Graham Greene. Arresting poetic images of pleasure and pain, of sex and death, are stitched together with surgical precision . . . An alchemist who has turned rough familial coal into literary gold (and with any luck, cinematic gold), Lam has forged a testament to the immut­able power of the filial bond, mapping the con­scious and unconscious transmission of gifts and curses of a single family, and therefore all families.” &mdash
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