The Headmaster’s Wager

Joanne Wilkinson, Booklist
August 1, 2012

Issue: August 1, 2012
The Headmaster's Wager.
Lam, Vincent (Author)
Aug 2012. 416 p. Crown/Hogarth, hardcover, $25.00. (9780307986467).

ercival Chen, the wealthy headmaster of an English-language school in 1960s Saigon, has an innate belief in the superiority of his Chinese heritage and eschews the changing face of power in Vietnam-first, the sadistic Japanese; then the urbane French and the overconfident Americans; and, finally, the victorious Vietcong. Percival only believes in making money and gives full rein to his vices. But over the course of this long novel, which takes its time detailing the ethnic and cultural complexities of Saigon, Percival must learn to deal with the historic forces of his time. When his beloved son is arrested by the South Vietnamese authorities, Percival risks his wealth to rescue his son and smuggle him to China, where, unfortunately, Percival's status as a landowner dooms his son's fortunes as the Cultural Revolution dawns. Turning to a beautiful mixed-race Vietnamese prostitute for comfort, Percival finds himself falling in love and even more vulnerable to the tragedies that befall his town and country. In his first novel, Lam provides both an unusual perspective on the Vietnam War and a sweeping story of one man's brutal education in realpolitik.

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