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George M. (Antioch, CA)
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
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.
Ann W. (new york, NY)
The Headmaster's Wager
This was an outstanding book. It covers a story of an ethnic Chinese gentleman in Vietnam beginning his joining his father during WWII until the victory of the north Vietnamese in 1978. Percival, his English name given to him in Hong Kong focuses on making money, ignoring what is happening to all those around him. We are given information from Percival and only slowly come to realize what he ignores and misses until it is too late and the consequences are earth shattering. Written with empathy and excellent about the immigrant experience and acculturation and often the lack of such it is a masterpiece. For Americans who lived through these times, it forces one to yet again re-examine assumptions about American intentions, behaviors and responsibilities. These questions remain given the recent participation in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dr. Lam's novel is excellent, troubling and ends without resolution. I encourage everyone to read it.
Jane H. (Owensboro, KY)
The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam
I have been sending reviews to First Impressions for a while, but this is the first time I have EVER given a 5 to a book I have read through this program. Extremely well written, this is the Vietnam story told from a point of view never heard before. The war is only a secondary player to the political intrigue and perils of day-to-day living in a country at war. Percival's story grabbed me from page 1 and held me breathless through page 423. I HIGHLY recommend and predict this book no doubt will be on the top of all bestseller lists for this year. Kudos to the author!
Jerry P. (Santa Rosa, CA)
The Transformation of a Self-centered Businessman
I enjoyed Vincent Lam's book and highly recommend it. His characters are complex people who are trying to survive in a hellish war-torn country where "man's inhumanity to man" is part of daily life. I should mention there were some violent scenes that were gut wrenching.
Caryl L. (Williamsburg, VA)
The main character- Percival Chen- is the Headmaster of a Chinese-run English school in Cholon, a suburb of Saigon, South Vietnam and is a wealthy businessman who is detached from Vietnamize culture and the conflict spreading between North and South Vietnam. He is very effective in obtaining favors from his political contacts through the skillful use of bribes. Additionally, he is a womanizer who is addicted to the thrill of gambling. His complacent life changes when his son angers officials by refusing to speak Vietnamize and is incarcerated. Chen's life then begins to change during his struggles to free his son.
This book takes place during the period of 1966-1975 when American forces are leaving Vietnam and North Vietnam is attacking South Vietnam. How this effects the lives of the local people is the main storyline.
Eileen P. (Pittsford, NY)
Chen Pie Sou now known as Percival is headmaster of the American Academy in the outskirts of Saigon. He is very proud of his heritage in China and his school in Vietnam. Too proud, in fact, as he refuses to admit all the signs of trouble around him.
The book is well written and is easy reading. The unfamiliar names in Chinese and Vietnam are bit daunting making it hard to keep track of at times.
Vincent Lam’s masterful story about the Chinese experience in Vietnam from 1966 to 1975 is both an exploration of the dangers of nationalism and a testimony to the power of love. It captures how difficult it is to know how political/world events are going to end and what we can do to protect ourselves and those we love. I found it to be both captivating and heartbreaking. It would be an outstanding discussion book.
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 is an entrepreneur who 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 company during the American occupation of 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.
“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” should rise to the top of the “New York Times” best seller list.