Vincent Lam's "The Headmaster's Wager" - An Action-Packed Adventure Full of Honor and Love

Ian Malcomson, Malcomsonline
June 27, 2012

I n this novel, Canadian writer Vincent Lam has broken away from his favourite subject of all things medical to treat the reader to a rattlingly good, fast-moving tale about how the Chen family moved from southern China to relocate in Vietnam during the 1930s. I’m quite sure that “The Headmaster’s Wager” mirrors some of the history behind the Lam’s family journey to the West as boat people in the 1970s when South Vietnam was falling to the Viet Cong; and that we will soon be reading the next installment dealing with their move to the West. Here are some features I like about this work by a very respected writer: (1)the novel weaves a complex and colorful narrative about three generations of Chens as they fight for their survival in the foreign and often hostile land of Vietnam; (2) There is a high degree of close-calls and suspense as Percival literally gambles on the future of his family; (3) There is a strong sense of familial loyalty that keeps the Chens together through thick and thin; (4) The presence of modern history resonates very strongly throughout this work from the French colonial days to the ravages of World War II to the Vietnam War; (5)Lam does not go overboard when describing incidents of sexual intimacy, though there are a number of such moments in the plot; (6) That special mystical power of luck and charm, often associated with Chinese culture, plays a key role in keeping the plot moving; (7) There are numerous makings of racial conflicts to extend and deepen the tension throughout the story; (8) We get to see Percival mature in wisdom, love and courage as he contends with many unnerving crisis in his war-torn life such as an unhappy marriage, the death of his parents, the Japanese occupation, the Vietnam conflict, racial prejudice, being separated from his son, and remarrying; (9) The dialogue is especially clear and easy to follow; and (10) Lam offers some very helpful insights into the rich culture of both the Vietnamese and Chinese societies. Everything mentioned in this book has the potential for engaging the reader’s full complement of senses in the complex struggles of the main character as he bets on his future.

© Malcomson 2012