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 Percival Chen English Academy. Fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, he is 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 mah-jong tables.
But when his son, Dai Jai, get into trouble with the Vietnamese authorities, Percival must face 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 verge of the Tet Offensive. Percival’s newfound happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further and further into this 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.
Vincent Lam’s novel The Headmaster’s Wager seemed to be a bit slow and I had a hard time keeping my mind from wondering off and thinking of other things, then would have to come back and re-read the paragraph. However, the story did seem to pick-up somewhat after he meets Jacqueline and has a son with her and a surprise I never expected.
All in all, I could easily have given this book a pass.