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 by Vincent Lam
  • 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


“Brothers,” said Percival, “this is my friend who advises me on all school business.” He continued to face the officers as he said, “Teacher Mak, I suspect this came to me in error, as it applies to schools, but we are a language institute.”

Mak quickly finished reading the papers.

“Headmaster,” said Mak in Vietnamese, “why not let these brothers be on their way?” He looked at Percival. He murmured in Teochow, “Sign. It is the only thing to do.”

Surprised, Percival took the receipt and the pen. Did Mak have nothing else to say? Mak nodded. Percival did as his friend advised, then put the paper on the table and flourished a smug grin at the quiet police, as if he had won. The younger one grabbed the receipt, the older one took a handful of fruit, and they left.

Percival was quiet for a few moments, and then snapped, “Dai Jai, where are your manners?” He tipped his head toward Mak.

“Good morning, honorable Teacher Mak,” Dai Jai said. He did not have his father’s natural way of hiding his displeasure.

Mak nodded in reply.

Dai Jai stood. “Please, teacher, sit.”

Mak took the seat, giving no indication he had noticed Dai Jai’s truculence.

“I had to take Vietnamese citizenship a few years ago, for the sake of my school license. Now, I am told to teach Vietnamese,” said Percival. “What will these Annamese want next? Will they force me to eat nuoc nam?

Hou jeung, things are touchy in Saigon,” said Mak. “There have been more arrests and assassinations than usual. Prime Minister Ky and the American one, Johnson, have announced that they want South Vietnam to be pacified.” He snorted, “They went on a holiday together in Hawaii, like sweethearts, and issued a memo in Honolulu.”

“So everyone is clamping down.”

“On whatever they can find. Showing patriotism, vigor.”

“Hoping to avoid being squeezed themselves.”

“Don’t worry. We will hire a Vietnamese teacher, and satisfy the authorities,” said Mak. “I can teach a few classes.” Though he was of Teochow Chinese descent, Mak was born in central Vietnam and spoke the language fluently. Percival only spoke well enough to direct household servants and restaurant waiters, to dissemble with Saigon officials, and to bed local prostitutes.

“Vietnamese is easy,” said Dai Jai.

“Did anyone ask you?” Percival turned to his son. “You are Chinese, remember? For fifteen hundred years, this was a Chinese province. The Imperial Palace in Hue is a shoddy imitation of the Summer Palace in Beijing. Until the French came, they wrote in Chinese characters.”

“I know, ba, I know.” Dai Jai recited, “Before being conquered by the Han, this was a land of illiterates in mud huts. Without the culture of China, the Vietnamese are nothing but barbarians.”

“That is very old history,” said Mak, glancing around at the other buildings within earshot. “Anyhow, let’s talk about this inside, where it’s cooler.” The sun was already high, and the balcony radiated white heat.

“I will say what I want in my own home. Look, this school is called the Percival Chen English Academy. Students expect to learn English. Why teach Vietnamese here? Why should we Chinese be forced to learn that language?”

From below came the clang of the school bell.

“What are you waiting for?” Percival said. “Don’t you have class? Or are you too busy chasing Annamese skirts?” Dai Jai hurried away, and it was hard for Percival to tell whether the boy’s anger or his relief at being excused caused him to rush down the stairs so quickly.

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!

Support BookBrowse

Become a Member and discover books that entertain, engage & enlighten!

Join Today!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: I See You
    I See You
    by Clare Mackintosh
    Clare MackIntosh has written a haunting thriller that has kept our readers at the edge of their ...
  • Book Jacket: Perfect Little World
    Perfect Little World
    by Kevin Wilson
    It might be the beginning of a tragic story: Izzy Poole falls in love with her mentally unstable ...
  • Book Jacket: Pachinko
    Pachinko
    by Min Jin Lee
    Pachinko has one of the best opening lines I've encountered in some time: "History has failed us, ...

Book Discussion
Book Jacket
June
by Miranda Beverly-Whittemore

A novel of suspense and passion about a terrible mistake that changed a family forever.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    A Piece of the World
    by Christina Baker Kline

    A stunning novel of friendship, passion, and art from the #1 bestselling author of Orphan Train.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    The Typewriter's Tale
    by Michiel Heyns

    A thought-provoking novel on love, art and life fully lived.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

A few books well chosen, and well made use of, will be more profitable than a great confused Alexandrian library.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

K Your F C

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.