The Headmaster’s Wager – Vincent Lam

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 Wageris a riveting story of love, betrayal and sacrifice. – Publishers Website

I really liked this book ! Percival isn’t only a man who has a business, he also bribes officials and almost always has a solution to everything…Until his son causes trouble and he has to send him away to China so he doesn’t end up in prison.  His son is everything to him, he will do anything for him and his school.  When the loneliness from missing his son becomes too severe, he takes up with a young woman when gambling at one of the houses he goes to .  Later on, she becomes pregnant, and the desire to leave the country in war as well as all of the chaos is even more urgent.

Percival was an interesting man – his past marriage to his son’s mother, the bribes and people he is connected to,  especially his right hand man Mak gives him the solutions he needs until he misses his son so much that it is nearly impossible to have him return to Vietnam from China.  What won’t he do to survive? Who will he bribe next? Will he become bankrupt before he can leave the country, or worse dead?

I really loved Vincent’s narrative.  Although Percival is a man of many things, the one of the many things he loves are his son and his mistresses son, whom he was told it was his son, well, you will just have to read the book to find out. I don’t like giving spoilers !  There are times where it is all fun and games, periods of tumultuous fighting with his own family, and closest friends, but also within himself.  He wages a constant battle of doing right from wrong, and weighing them against the better good.  Does he do these things to get ahead? Of course.  Would he do anything to save his son who was exiled, absolutely.  Is it all about him, most of the time.  Does he have remorse? Of course he does.  And, I’m sure he would change things differently if he could go back in time.  That’s the thing with life, you can’t go back and change anything.  Did he learn from his lessons, yes.  Did he change? I’ll let you decide.

There were obviously good times had in the book as well, all combined into this novel it is about sacrifice, love, war, and greed.  I am sure that Vincent will be back soon with another novel of even more importance even if it is fiction.  He won the Giller Prize in 2006 for Blood-Letting and Miraculous Cures.  He was nominated for the Giller yet again this year, but only made it on the long list.  He was also nominated for the Governor Generals Awards.

Vincent’s Website – Twitter – Facebook  – Browse Inside

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