Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Book Review: The Headmaster's Wager

Release date: April 24, 2012
Publisher: Doubleday Canada
Author: Vincent Lam
Thank you to Net Galley and Doubleday Canada for this advance copy!

Percival Chen is the headmaster of the most respected English school in Saigon. He is also a bon vivant, a compulsive gambler and an incorrigible womanizer. He is well accustomed to bribing a forever-changing list of government officials in order to maintain the elite status of the Chen Academy. He is fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, and quick to spot the business opportunities rife in a divided country. He devotedly ignores all news of the fighting that swirls around him, choosing instead to read the faces of his opponents at high-stakes mahjong tables. But when his only son gets in trouble with the Vietnamese authorities, Percival faces the limits of his connections and wealth and is forced to send him away. In the loneliness that follows, Percival finds solace in Jacqueline, a beautiful woman of mixed French and Vietnamese heritage, and Laing Jai, a son born to them on the eve of the Tet offensive. Percival's new-found happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further and further into his world, he must confront the tragedy of all he has refused to see.

I love historical fiction. Have I ever mentioned that? And I especially love Asian historical fiction.
The Joy Luck Club, Memoirs of a Geisha, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan, Shogun...I loved them all.
But I've never read a book that takes place in Viet Nam, and I've never read a book about an Asian father and son.
That's why I was looking forward to The Headmaster's Wager.

Giller prize winning Vincent Lam has a way with words that will whisk you away. His characters are wonderful, the setting is amazing and the history is rich and tragic.

Percival lives his life with his eyes closed, completely oblivious to the events happening around him. His blind faith in his ancestors is tested time after time, yet he continues to believe that they will bring him the luck he desperately needs and will keep his son safe.
There were times when I wanted to reach into the book and slap him to try to get him to wake up and SEE the world around him!

This story told a part of the Viet Nam war that I never knew. Reading it was devastating, heartbreaking and REAL.
The love-story intertwined with the horrid effects of the war is touching and beautiful. I loved Jacqueline and I adored Laing Jai.
The twist in the story was brilliant, and one I didn't see coming at all.

The most surprising thing was how thrilling one specific game of mahjong is in this book! I know nothing about mahjong, but I was on the edge of my seat the whole time!

I think the end of this book might cause issues with some readers, but I wasn't one of them. I LOVED the way it ended and I'm glad Mr. Lam decided to go the way he did.

If you enjoyed the books I mentioned above, I think you'll love The Headmaster's Wager. It's about a father, a son, a lover, a war...and it will tear at your heartstrings.

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