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The Headmaster's Wager [Deckle Edge] [Hardcover]

Vincent Lam
4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (22 customer reviews)
List Price: CDN$ 32.95
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Book Description

April 24 2012

Amazon.ca Editors' Pick: Best Books of 2012

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.

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Review

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

About the Author

DR. VINCENT LAM is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam, and was born in Canada. Dr. Lam did his medical training and is an emergency physician in Toronto. He is 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 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and has recently been adapted for television and broadcast on HBO Canada. Dr. Lam co-authored The Flu Pandemic and You, a non-fiction guide to influenza pandemics.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Heartbreaking and Wonderful April 24 2012
Format:Hardcover
I love historical fiction. And I especially love Asian historical fiction.
The Joy Luck Club, Memoirs of a Geisha, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Shogun...I loved them all.
But I've never read a book that takes place in Viet Nam, and I've never read a book about an Asian father and son.
That's why I was looking forward to The Headmaster's Wager.

Giller prize winning Vincent Lam has a way with words that will whisk you away. His characters are wonderful, the setting is amazing and the history is rich and tragic.

Percival lives his life with his eyes closed, completely oblivious to the events happening around him. His blind faith in his ancestors is tested time after time, yet he continues to believe that they will bring him the luck he desperately needs and will keep his son safe.
There were times when I wanted to reach into the book and slap him to try to get him to wake up and SEE the world around him!

This story told a part of the Viet Nam war that I never knew. Reading it was devastating, heartbreaking and REAL.
The love-story intertwined with the horrid effects of the war is touching and beautiful. I loved Jacqueline and I adored Laing Jai.
The twist in the story was brilliant, and one I didn't see coming at all.

The most surprising thing was how thrilling one specific game of mahjong is in this book! I know nothing about mahjong, but I was on the edge of my seat the whole time!

I think the end of this book might cause issues with some readers, but I wasn't one of them. I LOVED the way it ended and I'm glad Mr. Lam decided to go the way he did.

If you enjoyed the books I mentioned above, I think you'll love The Headmaster's Wager. It's about a father, a son, a lover, a war...and it will tear at your heartstrings.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Stunning July 9 2012
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An epic story of a Chinese man, the headmaster of an English school in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. A fascinating and horrifying snapshot of the life of a civilian in those years of war and turmoil, a man who is himself an immigrant in a country occupied by Americans. A complex love story, a heart-rending family saga ... all told in spare, perfect prose. Compelling: I lost sleep reading this novel. Highly, highly, highly recommended.
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Sons and fathers May 7 2012
By Friederike Knabe TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Sometimes in his dreams Chen Pie Sou returns to his childhood in Shantou, China, and to the day of his father's first departure for the "Gold Mountain" in Indochina. His father, Chen Kai, had tied a small good luck charm around his neck: a tiny rough lump of gold, found long ago by an ancestor. It symbolizes the promise of wealth and good fortune, left without inscription because the fortunes can take different forms for each wearer. Several times over the years the father returns with more money; the growing Chen Pie Sou ponders: "... Chen Kai had an empty space [within him] that needed to be filled, but [he] could not understand what must be obtained to satisfy that void and bring his father home [for good]." The grown Chen Pie Sou, now known as Percival Chen, having followed his father to Saigon and living more than comfortably in Cholon, the Chinese part of town, "felt the same void, all money and distractions, could not fill it..." His position as Headmaster of the Percival Chen English Academy, the prestigious English Language School he established in his father's house, seems to be a part-time distraction at best; his main occupation being that of a wheeler and dealer par excellence, a bon-vivant, a gambler, womanizer, and a powerful representative of Vietnam's wealthy Chinese minority. His good luck charm that has served him well is now tied around the neck of Dai Jai, his beloved son... With it Chen not only passes on a family symbol he instils in his son the pride he holds for their Chinese heritage and traditions.

THE HEADMASTER'S WAGER is Canadian Vincent Lam's eagerly awaited first novel, following the author's 2006 Scotia Bank Giller Prize for his story collection Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A High Risk Tale June 30 2012
By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAME TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
In 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. Read more ›
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars One of my favourite types of fiction
Loved this book. Historical fiction is my favourite type of read. It seemed to come alive and it was so interesting following the Headmasters adventures.
Published 4 months ago by Marianne Lewsey
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent, moving story
Vincent Lam's book is an excellent story about one man's struggles to protect the ones he loves during the Viet Nam War. Read more
Published 9 months ago by jwo
5.0 out of 5 stars excellent story
I enjoyed the style of Vincent Lam in a historical background with a super story line.

The characters are well developed and captivate the reader's interest.
Published 10 months ago by m. Nodwell
5.0 out of 5 stars Great Story
Mr. Lam’s first novel is a fiction inspired by his own family history.

At the heart is the story of Chen Pie Sou, also known as Percival, the headmaster of the... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Toni Osborne
3.0 out of 5 stars a very interesting book
There is much that hold's your interest in this well-written story. The instability of life and circumstances in post WWII Asia is well described. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Michael G. Francis
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellence in the Art of Traditional Story-Telling
Vincent Lam’s writing career has barely begun, but already he is becoming a literary icon in Canada. Read more
Published 13 months ago by Sean Malcolm
5.0 out of 5 stars The Headmaster's Wager
Excellently written, great storyline, interesting as well as likable characters and an unpredictable outcome. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Linda Carswell-Bland
5.0 out of 5 stars Amazing!!!!
I have read this book in one breath! It is most fascinating especially because it is based on the facts, beautifully displayed as fiction. Read more
Published 15 months ago by Torontogirl
5.0 out of 5 stars The headmasters wager
A well told story, it conjours up the situation that existed at that time perfectly. One almost gets the feeling that the author was actually the priciple character. Read more
Published 16 months ago by J R DURRANT
4.0 out of 5 stars Headmaster Wager
The ending was a little puzzling, and I found the chinese names a little hard to keep straight (Glad he was named Percival, that made it easier). Read more
Published 17 months ago by Dave Hoeght
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