First Impressions Book Review
By Chet Yarbrough
The Headmaster’s Wager
By Vincent Lam
Vincent Lam, the son of parents and grandparents that lived in an expatriate Chinese community in Vietnam, is especially suited to write “The Headmaster’s Wager”. Lam’s stories of a Chinese’ minority’s existence in Vietnam has bell ringing clarity and concrete believability in “The Headmaster’s Wager”.
Percival Chen, the principle character in Lam’s novel, is an entrepreneur that chooses to ignore political reality by following whatever political rules exist in the country in which he lives.
Percival lives and prospers as a hedonistic owner of an English language school during the American occupation of South Vietnam. He teaches in his own school and schemes to become a preferred language school at the time when Americans endeavor to win the hearts and minds of the indigenous population. (How similar that sounds to America’s efforts in Iraq.)
Percival is also a problem gambler that risks everything for the thrill of winning. The main character of Lam’s novel makes anyone that has gambled recognize the thrill of wagering all one has–to change one’s luck. Percival copes with Vietnamese discrimination, Vietcong brutality, and American ineptitude to survive and prosper in his adopted county.
Percival’s son is kidnapped; Percival falls into debt to pay ransom for his son, sends his son to China to protect him from the American/South Vietnamese/Vietcong conflict, becomes disillusioned by Mao’s Cultural Revolution, trusts the untrustworthy, and falls into irredeemable love with a beautiful French/Vietnamese “slave”.
“The Headmaster’s Wager” is a journey of imagination, grounded by tales told to the author in his research of the Lam family’s fascinating history. This is a nicely written book that will entertain casual readers, gamblers, male chauvinists, war critics, and Maoist China haters; “The Headmaster’s Wager” could rise to the top of the “New York Times” best seller list. This is an entertaining piece of historical fiction.