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The Headmaster's Wager Hardcover – Deckle Edge, Apr 24 2012

4.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Doubleday Canada; 1st Edition edition (April 24 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385661452
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385661454
  • Product Dimensions: 16.7 x 3.4 x 24.2 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 680 g
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars 25 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #108,867 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


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

4.6 out of 5 stars
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Top Customer Reviews

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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By Friederike Knabe TOP 500 REVIEWER on May 7 2012
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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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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By Ian Gordon Malcomson HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on June 30 2012
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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