By Vincent Lam
Review copy given from TLC Book Tours
Author, Dr. Vincent Lam's novel, takes place in Vietnam. He's heritage is from Vietnam, he's occupation when not writing is a ER physician in Canada. He is well known in Canada in literary circles. He has won literary prizes for his short stories, and other novel, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures. There is a interesting scoop of gossip about him, and Margaret Atwood, one of my favorite authors.
I don't recall how I found out about this novel, it could have been through BEA. When I found out that TLC Book Tour was looking for hosts for Headmaster's Wager, I jumped and eagerly wanted to read, and review. I don't know what I was expecting, but I wanted to jump at the chance.
It seems that this is the right time for novels about Vietnam to be published now. With the wounds of Vietnam has healed, and less painful it is the right time to start writing about it. There has been recently many novels with the historical back drop of the Vietnam War( I know politically, it is not a war, but a conflict~ but that is another time to write about my views on that). Vietnam War was from 1962, to the fall of Saigon-1975.
What sticks out in memory all of us wearing the silver bracelets, with the name of American soldiers. They were either MIA, or killed in action. We were proud wearing and finding out about these fine soldiers. Remember we were maybe 10 years old, and only interested in what everyone else was doing- the in crowd, not exactly in the war on another continent, and another ocean.
When I was growing up, I was not aware of the happenings of the 60's, I was a young child, and not interested. I was a teen when the Vietnam War ended, and the fall of Saigon. I remember, on the TV screens discussions of the involuntary draft, boys at 18 avoiding the draft and going to Canada, college campus demonstrations to show their view of Vietnam atrocities, the treatment of Cambodian citizens by American Soldiers, the same goes for the Viet Cong's treatment of American soldiers. What still I remember is the MIA's still in Vietnam, and never returned.
I still remember stories of American soldiers fathering children and leaving them behind. Promising to get them out and into America. But most father's only made empty promises. Some did try to get them out, but there always seemed to be a snag in the system. Most of these children were killed because they were mixed blood. It was dangerous to be a child of a American soldier. Awful killing of Vietnam Citizen by American soldiers, American soldiers dying for the name of communism, and the eventual fall of Saigon in 1975.
The war in Vietnam was not the same as WW2 with a warm welcome when we won the war. The Vietnam War, was actually brought to the general public by way of TV. Many people were angry we were in Vietnam. We did not win the war, so the "boys" were tossed aside, and not a warm welcome. I worked as a psychiatric nurse in the VA Hospital, in the early 90's. So, I hope you understand I want to protect my boys, and their memory.
Sorry to get on my soap box, but the story brings and hashes events from that time into my memory bank. It is important to remember American home front history, comparing events that were to the main character's experiences during the 1960's.
The Head Master's Wager takes place in China and Vietnam. The story is about a young boy, Percival original named, Chen Pie Sou. He's father, Chen Kai leaves China to go to Vietnam where prospects financially are better than China. He leaves he's son and mother and hopes to call for them when he finds the "golden mountain".
He never calls for them and stays in Vietnam, and becomes a successful businessman in the rice trade business. Chen Kai, finds a second wife. The wife uses him only for her gain. She constantly gets him addicted to Opium where he can't see straight.
Eventually Chen Pie Sou, becomes known as Percival. He marries, Celia and they travel to Vietnam and live with his father in the same house outside of Saigon. The suburb they live is segregated with only Chinese.
The Chinese think they are better than Vietnamese. Percival thinks he is above everyone, and the law. After his father's death he converts the business of the rice trade to a respected American school. Celia divorces, and leaves behind he's son, Dai-Jai.
While Percival is the headmaster to the school. He thinks he is above the law, he is very proud to be Chinese. He is bribing everyone to protect himself and the American school. Percival is a drinker, gambler, thrill seeker, sleeps around with prostitutes, and not a likeable person, but I could understand his motivation.
The Vietnamese authorities set a edict that he's American school must teach Vietnamese. Percival's son protest this edict openly, and is arrested by the authorities. Percival find a way to get him out of jail and to get him passage to China.
He is lonely for his son, and to combat he's loneliness he does something to combat his loneliness.
He goes gambling, drinking, and bribing his friends. He meets Jacqueline, a prostitute. He falls in love with her, he has a son. But, there is more to Jacqueline then meets the eyes.
My Review: The author, Mr. Lam is Canadian, and his family is from Vietnam. The inspiration from the novel, came from his grandfather.
The history of Vietnam was originally occupied from the French during colonization. I did my own research while reading Headmaster's Wager. I did a google search of Vietnam War, Vietnam, and China during the 1940's to 1970's.
The novel, has many themes, China, Vietnam, children from American soldiers, friendship, intermarriage, Chinese, the game of Maj-Hong, heritage, segregation, children, and family, communism, character development, expatriate, and so much more to discuss at a book club.
The author's writing style, is rich in description of character, and not flat. The author keeps building, and building, upon, to make it rich in the history, and character. The story is sad, and well conceived, which makes the story unique.
Percival, is the headmaster of the Academy. He is not someone I would hang out with. There are so many flaws, I don't want to count. But, that is what makes the story interesting. He is a gambler, drinker, dealing with bribes, etc.
The character I liked was Teacher, Mak. He was a interesting fellow. Percival thought he knew him. But, toward the middle of the novel, he realized he did not know his trusted friend as well as he thought. He trusted him to do his business dealings. Then found out something that would change the history of Vietnam, his country, and help him survive.
But through it all, he loves he son. He would do anything to save, and help him. You will see what he does to save him if you read this novel. There is many twists and turns, and surprised me. I loved the story. I recommend reading it, if you are interested in Asia, and interested in Vietnam, lived during the 60's, and want to learn more about contemporary American history.
I am so happy to have read Headmaster's Wager. I am so tired all the time of reading books on women's themes. What a nice change to read something totally different, and the story so unique. Thank you, Dr. Lam and TLC Book Tours for the review copy.
Thank you for visiting, you can read the other reviews at the other book stops below.
Monday, September 10th: The Bowed Bookshelf
Monday, September 17th: Book Chase
Wednesday, September 19th: Bibliophiliac
Monday, September 24th: My Bookshelf
Wednesday, September 26th: Lit and Life
Monday, October 1st: BookNAround
Wednesday, October 3rd: Ted Lehmann’s Bluegrass,
Books, and Brainstorms
Books, and Brainstorms
Thursday, October 4th: Mom in Love with Fiction
Monday, October 8th: Paperback Princess
Wednesday, October 10th: Unabridged Chick
Monday, October 15th: A Book Geek
Thursday, October 18th: Bookish Habits
Monday, October 22nd: Girls Just Reading
Thursday, November 1st: A Novel Review