review copy provided by Hogarth via TLC Book Tours
Description from Goodreads:
A superbly crafted, highly suspenseful, and deeply affecting debut novel about one man’s loyalty to his country, his family and his heritage
Percival Chen is the headmaster of the most respected English academy in 1960s Saigon, and he is well accustomed to bribing a forever-changing list of government officials in order to maintain the elite status of his school. Fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, he is quick to spot the business opportunities rife in a divided country, though he also harbors a weakness for gambling haunts and the women who frequent them. He devotedly ignores all news of the fighting that swirls around him, 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 whom he is able to confide in. But Percival's new-found happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further into his world, he must confront the tragedy of all he has refused to see.
Graced with intriguingly flawed but wonderfully human characters moving through a richly drawn historical landscape, The Headmaster's Wager is an unforgettable story of love, betrayal and sacrifice.
The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam is just an amazing book. The characters and particular events in the story stayed with me long after I had finished reading the book. This is one of those books that is difficult to describe because there are so many intriguing and haunting aspects to the story.
I was enthralled by the history of Vietnam as told throughout the narrative of the novel. The perspective is quite different from what we in the west are usually exposed to. I was especially interested in the way that the Chinese community in Vietnam reacted to the various colonizers and occupiers of the country. This book is worth reading for the history alone, but the story of Percival and his family is just so compelling. I was drawn into this exotic, violent, political, beautiful, tense world and I had a hard time pulling myself out again even after finishing the book.
Percival, the headmaster of Percival Chen English Academy, is an intriguing, frustrating, extremely flawed, but loving man who tries to live according to what he feels is the "right" way to live. Few others around him agree with what he sees as being "right". But Percival is a stubborn man who is very conscious of his Chinese heritage, is very proud of that heritage and he makes his decisions based on this heritage - for better or worse. Some of these decisions come back to haunt him in terrible ways.
I see so much of this book to be about conflict. I, as a reader, was conflicted in my opinions about Percival and other characters in the book. Percival is conflicted about a number of things in his life including how to raise his son. When his son makes a youthful, foolish, patriotic statement in hopes of pleasing his father, he gets himself in extremely deep trouble and his father must decide how best to handle it. This incident leads to a great many conflicts and important decisions. Everywhere the reader looks, there are conflicting views, conflicting goals, conflicting politics, and all this isn't even including the obvious armed conflict that plays a major part of the novel.
There are numerous themes that run throughout the novel including greed and the constant desire to make more profits at the expense of others; choosing not to see certain things or to at least ignore what is unpleasant to deal with; gambling and luck are also a constant in the novel. Familial love and duty are probably the most important theme and the one that really makes the story so affecting.
There are many things I disliked about Percival, but eventually, what played the biggest part in my acceptance of this character was his complete and undying love for his family. Despite of all his many faults and shortcomings, he loved his family and would quite literally do anything to keep them safe. This powerful love and survival instinct was what kept me so involved in the story. There is no way to describe all the memorable characters in this book. It would require giving too much of the plot away. Suffice it to say that I will not forget this book or the characters in the book for a very long time.
About Dr. Vincent LamDR. VINCENT LAM is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam. Born in Canada, Lam is an emergency physician and 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 Giller Prize and has been adapted for television and broadcast on HBO Canada..
You can find the rest of the tour stops here.