The Headmaster’s Wager

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.

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.”
Literary Review of Canada
 
“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.”
Publisher’s Weekly

The Headmaster’s Wager does what only the very best literature can do: it provides characters you care about deeply (even as they break your heart) and has plot twists you don’t see coming but then couldn’t imagine any other way. Vincent Lam has written a mature and rewarding novel of the highest quality, and Percival Chen will remain with you long after the final page. This is an exceptional book.”
—Andrew Davidson, author of The Gargoyle

“A first novel of astonishing force, craft and beauty, The Headmaster’s Wager conjures up a dizzyingly evocative wartime Saigon in the story of Percival Chen, a Chinese schoolmaster in Vietnam.  This extraordinary book made me weep.  Read it.” 
—Janice Y.K. Lee, author of the New York Times bestseller The Piano Teacher