Things We Should Know
This is a fascinating trip back to a place most Americans never knew existed. Oh, we heard all about The War, the protests, the turmoil that was Vietnam before most of us could find it on a map. What a joy it was to be educated in the culture of the land and that period of time, before the U.S was so deeply involved that it seemed our world went nuts. I highly recommend "The Headmaster's Wager". I think those with an appreciation for history, and that people ARE history, will truly enjoy this excellent novel
Rated of 5
by Erin G. (Dulles, VA)
I rarely say this, but I think this book was just about perfect. The story was expertly plotted and so tense I sometimes had to put the book down for a moment and take a deep breath, my fear for the characters was so real. Percival Chen is such a believable and fatally flawed character. My heart ached for him as he watched the consequences of his choices unfold. An absolutely unforgettable read.
Rated of 5
by Carole V. (West Linn, Oregon)
Best book all summer!
This books takes place in Viet Nam at the end of the war; Percival is the headmaster of an elite school teaching English to students so they can be translators for the Americans. Percival turns a blind eye to events around him until it is too late. All the characters are flawed, but that is what makes the book so real. I loved this book, and it kept me reading late at night. I was thoroughly entertained, but also came away with a better sense of that time in history; our role in Vietnam, and also how we were perceived by the Vietnamese people. Not a moment wasted; he's an incredible writer, can't wait for more!
Rated of 5
by Michael F. (Providence, RI)
A beautiful debut
Strikingly original and beautifully written, The Headmaster’s Wager is a brilliant and heartbreaking first novel. Percival Chen, the imperfect, barely likeable protagonist, is often frustratingly blind to his own circumstances as he attempts to navigate his way along the quiet edges of the Vietnam War. Vincent Lam, as a master of story, makes sure that Percival pays for each misstep he makes, and the reader cannot help but to ache along with him at every consequence he reaps. This is a book that keeps the reader engaged, with well-timed twists and surprises the entire way through. More than that, however, Lam has created characters that feel real and that, in the end, I care deeply about.
Rated of 5
by Carmen S. (Elkins, Arkansas)
A beautiful, well told story.
Rated of 5
by Elizabeth W. (Newton, MA)
Visit to another land . . .
The language of The Headmaster’s Wager is as intoxicating and seductive as the opium and morphine that trap the first father-and-son pair around whom the story centers. The plot is tight and fast-paced enough to make one tempted to read through the pages quickly, but it is worth taking time to savor Vincent Lam’s imagery and insights.
The book is set in Viet Nam during the time that United States military was fighting there. As a young adolescent at that time, I learned about the war through a limited perspective; this novel enlarges that view as much as the histories I’ve read since then. The Headmaster’s Wager not only tells a very personal story of love and loss but also reveals the intrusion of the Chinese and the French into the world of the Vietnamese and also the disparity between the excessive luxury enjoyed by the rich and the extreme deprivation of the poor.
Like protagonist Percival, I was surprised by the deception lurking at the core of his world and the extent to which political and philosophical connections trumped personal friendship. Lam presents moments of brutality that are all the more shocking because of their juxtaposition with serene domestic moments that Percival shares with his mistress and son.
Once I escaped the immediate pull of the story, my first thought was that there is no way a woman could have written this book. Even more than might have been dictated by the Chinese and Vietnamese cultures at its center, the book presents a man’s world. There are striking women, but they are important only as they are used by and affect the lives of the men; they seem to have no intrinsic value of their own. The deep emotional bonds are between son and father and between two male friends.
I enjoyed visiting the man’s world of The Headmaster’s Wager as I enjoy a trip to an unknown land—fascinating to see but very unfamiliar.
Rated of 5
by Joan R. (Chicago, IL)
Very good book club selection
This is an engaging and often gripping story set in Saigon in the late 60's and early 70's. I was quickly immersed in the political turmoil of the times, feeling all the fear and suspicion of a world where brutality and cunning have the upper hand. Yet, against this backdrop several moving love stories emerge. This novel would be an excellent book club selection. My only reason for not giving this book a "5" rating was the writing style, which was straightforward but often wooden, in contrast to the compelling story.
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