"What if your sophomore effort is a masterpiece? Lam's hugely impressive first novel . . . has all the markings. It is a project he has nurtured since his teens--the epic story of his own people, ground almost to oblivion on the bloody geopolitical fulcrum of the Vietnam War--and the result is as good a novel as anyone has ever written about those times. . . . A powerful and engrossing work." --The Globe and Mail
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 mahjong tables. But when his only son gets into trouble with the Vietnamese authorities, Percival faces the limits of his connections and wealth and is forced to send Dai Jai 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.