Excerpt from The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reading Guide |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Headmaster's Wager

A Novel

by Vincent Lam

The Headmaster's Wager
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Aug 2012, 416 pages
    Paperback:
    May 2013, 448 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
BookBrowse First Impression Reviewers

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


They ate. Their chopsticks and spoons clicked on the bowls. Each regarded the square as if they had never before seen it, as if just noticing the handsome post office that the French had built, which now was also an army office. Three Buddhist monks with iron begging bowls stood in the shadow of St. Francis Xavier, the Catholic church that was famous for providing sanctuary to Ngo Dinh Diem, the former president of Vietnam, and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu, during the 1963 coup. After finishing his noodles, Percival sipped his coffee, and selected a piece of cut papaya using his chopsticks. He aimed for an understanding tone, saying, “Teacher Mak tells me she is very pretty.” He lifted the fruit with great care, for too much pressure with the chopsticks would slice it in half. “But your love is improper.” He should have called it something smaller, rather than love, but the word had already escaped. Percival slipped the papaya into his mouth and turned his eyes to the monks, waiting for his son’s reply. There was the one- eyed monk who begged at the school almost every day. The kitchen staff knew that he and his brothers were to be fed, even if they had to go out and buy more food. It was the headmaster’s standing order. On those steps, Percival remembered, he had seen the Ngo brothers surrender themselves to the custody of army officers. They had agreed to safe passage, an exile in America. They had set off for Tan Son Nhut Airport within the protection of a green armored troop carrier. On the way there, the newspapers reported, the soldiers stopped the vehicle at a railroad crossing and shot them both in the head.

“Teacher Mak has nothing better to do than to be your spy?” said Dai Jai, his voice starting bold but tapering off.

“That is a double disrespect— to your teacher and to your father.”

“Forgive me, ba,” said Dai Jai, his eyes down again. “Also, you know my rule, that school staff must not have affairs with students.” Percival himself kept to the rule despite occasional temptation. As Mak often reminded him, there was no need to give anyone in Saigon even a flimsy pretext to shut them down.

“But I am not—”

“You are the headmaster’s son. And you are Chinese. Don’t you know the shame of my father’s second marriage? Let me tell you of Chen Kai’s humiliation—”

“I know about Ba Hai, and yes, her cruelty. You have told—”

“And I will tell you again, until you learn its lesson! Ba Hai was very beautiful. Did that save my father? An Annamese woman will offer you her sweetness, and then turn to sell it to someone else.”

Percival knew the pull that Dai Jai must feel. The girls of this country had a supple, easy sensuality. It would be a different thing, anyways, if Dai Jai had been visiting an Annamese prostitute. Even a lovestruck boy would one day realize that she had other customers. But this was dangerous, an infatuation with a student. A boy could confuse his body’s desires for love. Percival saw that Dai Jai had stopped eating, his spoon clenched in his fist, his anger bundled in his shoulders. “You can’t trust the pleasure of an Annamese.”

“You know that pleasure well,” mumbled Dai Jai. “At least I don’t pay for it.”

Percival slammed his coffee into the table. The glass shattered. Brown liquid sprayed across the white linen tablecloth, the fruit, the porcelain, and his own bare arm. He stood, and turned his back on his son to face the square, as if it would provide a solution to this conflict. Peasants pushed carts with fish and produce to market. Sinewy cyclo men were perched high like three- wheeled grasshoppers, either waiting for fares or pedalling along, their thin shirts transparent with sweat. Coffee trickled down Percival’s arm, over his wrist, and down his fingers, which he pressed flat on the hot marble of the balustrade.

Excerpted from The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam. Copyright © 2012 by Vincent Lam. Excerpted by permission of Hogarth Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

One Month Free Membership

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: The Book That Matters Most
    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers appreciated the innovative structure of The Book That Matters ...
  • Book Jacket: The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    The Invisible Life of Ivan Isaenko
    by Scott Stambach
    BookBrowse First Impression reviewers were uniformly impressed by this difficult yet heartwarming ...
  • Book Jacket: Boy Erased
    Boy Erased
    by Garrard Conley
    Growing up in rural Arkansas, Garrard Conley did not quite fit the mold of his strait-laced, ...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    All the Ugly and Wonderful Things
    by Bryn Greenwood

    A memorable coming-of-age tale about loyalty, defiance, and the power of love.

    Read Member Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Book That Matters Most
    by Ann Hood

    An enthralling novel about love, loss, secrets and friendship.

    Read Member Reviews

Book Discussions
Book Jacket
This Must Be the Place
by Maggie O'Farrell

An irresistible love story for fans of Beautiful Ruins and Where'd You Go, Bernadette?

About the book
Join the discussion!
Win this book!
Win Lady Cop Makes Trouble

The Kopp Sisters Return!

One of the nation's first female deputy sheriffs returns in another gripping adventure based on fact.

Enter

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Manners M (T) M

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
X

Free Weekly Newsletter

Keep up with what's happening in the world of books:
Reviews, previews, interviews and more!



Spam Free: Your email is never shared with anyone; opt out any time.