Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Headmaster's Wager” as Want to Read:
The Headmaster's Wager
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Read Excerpt* *Different edition

The Headmaster's Wager

by
3.85  ·  Rating Details  ·  3,361 Ratings  ·  549 Reviews
"What if your sophomore effort is a masterpiece? Lam's hugely impressive first novel . . . has all the markings. It is a project he has nurtured since his teens--the epic story of his own people, ground almost to oblivion on the bloody geopolitical fulcrum of the Vietnam War--and the result is as good a novel as anyone has ever written about those times. . . . A powerful a ...more
Paperback, 400 pages
Published April 2nd 2013 by Anchor Canada (first published January 1st 2012)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Headmaster's Wager, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about The Headmaster's Wager

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Jeffrey Keeten
Sep 24, 2015 Jeffrey Keeten rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: vietnam
”The soil in this country is red from all the blood that is soaked into the earth. When each war ends, another soon begins. The Japanese, the French, the Americans, someone else in the future, so what does it matter what they say in Paris? The land itself bleeds.”

 photo Vietnam_zps26fff426.jpg

World War Two came early to Shanghai. In 1937, during the Battle of Shanghai, the Japanese invade and occupy Shanghai. They stay until the end of the war. Percival Chen A.K.A. Chen Pie Sou made his way to Hong Kong where he could have
...more
Friederike Knabe
May 07, 2012 Friederike Knabe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian-lit
Sometimes in his dreams Chen Pie Sou returns to his childhood in Shantou, China, and to the day of his father's first departure for the "Gold Mountain" in Indochina. His father, Chen Kai, had tied a small good luck charm around his neck: a tiny rough lump of gold, found long ago by an ancestor. It symbolizes the promise of wealth and good fortune, left without inscription because the fortunes can take different forms for each wearer. Several times over the years the father returns with more mone ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This was a new perspective for me on the Vietnam War. Most of what is on offer for us here in the U.S. is told from the perspective of Americans involved in that war. THE HEADMASTER'S WAGER gives us a picture of life for the common people in and around Saigon during the war. There was a lot of money to be made as a result of the war, but the stakes were high, and certain classes of people were destined to lose regardless of who won the war. I now have a much better understanding of why some peop ...more
Trish
Sep 08, 2012 Trish rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, war, asia, ebook
For readers interested in recent Chinese and Vietnamese history and culture, this novel is an intensive course. The tale begins with a young boy born to Chinese parents in Shantou, China during a period of change (the 1930s). The story takes on epic proportions when he relocates first to Hong Kong and then to Cholon (near Saigon) in Vietnam during the tumultuous period when a series of foreign powers (the Japanese, the French, the Americans) fought wars over Vietnam’s governance and managed to t ...more
Jess Shulman
It pains me to give a low rating to The Headmaster’s Wager. I was fully prepared to love it from beginning to end. I loved Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures: Stories (the C-section story will haunt me forever) and was thrilled when Vincent Lam published a full-length novel. I have great respect for Vincent Lam himself; to be a successful doctor and a successful writer simultaneously is something only someone very special can do.

And I liked the story of The Headmaster’s Wager very much. It had
...more
Owen
Nov 03, 2012 Owen rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
The guy can write, no denying that. The book follows the classic historical fiction arc of family events being dimly influenced by the society simmering with uncertainty in the background. Eventually, everything comes to a head and conflict forces characters to deal with what they have been trying to ignore when they can no longer separate their lives from the surrounding politics. The twists, surprises and eventual connecting of various narrative lines and well-constructed and the literary arch ...more
Jill
Sep 13, 2012 Jill rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“The world would be a faithful friend to anyone who could pay”


The Headmaster’s Wager possesses everything I look for in a book: intriguingly flawed characters, ambiguity, tightly-woven and suspenseful plot, page-turning revelations and a fresh perspective of an old plot theme – the Vietnam War.

Chen Pie Sou – renamed Percival Chen -- is the eponymous headmaster, in charge of the Percival Chen English Academy, which was formerly the rice warehouse of his father. He is a Chinese ex-patriot, a self-
...more
Sandra
Jul 09, 2012 Sandra rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
An epic story of a Chinese man, the headmaster of an English school in Vietnam during the Vietnam war. A fascinating and horrifying snapshot of the life of a civilian in those years of war and turmoil, a man who is himself an immigrant in a country occupied by Americans. A complex love story, a heart-rending family saga ... all told in spare, perfect prose. Compelling: I lost sleep reading this novel. Highly, highly, highly recommended.
Mona
Oct 20, 2014 Mona rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I couldn't decide whether to give this 3 or 4 stars..Percival's story is very tragic. Trouble is, he's an unlikely tragic hero, as his habitual greed, self-absorption, denial, lying, rigidity, self deception, and hedonism bring a lot of his troubles on himself. It is difficult to to care about him although that changed towards the novel's end. Also, the book is too long. A lot of repetitious and unnecessary scenes could have been cut and the book would have benefitted. Certain key scenes are ver ...more
Ted Bangay
Already reviewed by many others, here's my take on "The Headmaster's Wager."

I'm pretty familiar with the historical context of the book due to my having grown up in Canada during the Vietnam War. From that standpoint, the book provided an outstanding view of the experience of urban residents of Saigon and Cholon, the Chinese district of the city.

What I am unsure of is whether the book gives a good representation of Chinese culture, that is such things as Chinese family values, the role of fate a
...more
Tia Bach
Oct 04, 2012 Tia Bach rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Rating: 4.5 stars, but worthy of rounding to 5

Beautifully written, the words like paint strokes on a detailed painting. Percival Chan appears to have a life many would envy, especially in the midst of war and poverty. He has accumulated wealth and good standing as the Headmaster of an English-teaching academy. But his former wife never cared for him, and his son's moment of defiance creates devastating long-term problems. For all his failings, including gambling and prostitutes, he loves his son
...more
J
Apr 14, 2016 J rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: debut-novel
BEWARE OF SPOILERS. I DON'T HIDE OR PROMOTE MY REVIEWS.

This book is powerful. Twice I had to put down the book, because the author had created such tension that I couldn't immediately go forward, out of anxiety for the characters.

And those two points came fairly early in the story, which takes place mostly in southern Vietnam, in the era surrounding the 1975 fall of Saigon.

Later I learned to discipline myself to keep reading, as those two early pivotal points are mild compared to the some of th
...more
DeB
This is beautifully written. However, as much as I wished to follow the subterfuge and circuitous thinking, planning and emotional discordance in the upheaval of this family against the background of conflict-ridden Vietnam, I just pooped out and couldn't force myself through the dream state memories and terrifying present accompanying them.

I read voraciously and have now for half a century. My dearest friends adore marvellous literature. However, it seems that we have quite independently come
...more
Amber
it's finally out holy crap

you told my English class a year and a half ago this was based on a short story in Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures

time to see if this is as boring as that story was
Beverly
This was a 4.5 star book for me.

In this magnificently ambition tale a politically naïve Percival Chen, the headmaster of a successful English academy in 1960s Saigon believes in the superiority of his Chinese heritage and the value bribes are the keys to his success. After all this has worked with past conquerors, the Japanese, the French and the Americans–no matter how temporary their stay but being oblivious to the newest player for control will challenge Percival beyond his nightmares.
I was
...more
Michael
Dec 15, 2012 Michael rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Stayed up tonight finishing this book. Lam's masterpiece weaves a narrative arch from the perspective of its protagonist, Percival Chen, beginning in pre-Revolutionary mainland China continuing to Hong Kong in the face of Japanese imperialism, to Vietnam under the French and Japanese, through the American occupation and finally to the North Vietnamese victory. Through this narrative we are introduced lovingly to the traditions of Chinese culture through the experiences of an expatriate whose fat ...more
Jeanette  "Astute Crabbist"
This was a new perspective for me on the Vietnam War. Most of what is on offer for us here in the U.S. is told from the perspective of Americans involved in that war. THE HEADMASTER'S WAGER gives us a picture of life for the common people in and around Saigon during the war. There was a lot of money to be made as a result of the war, but the stakes were high, and certain classes of people were destined to lose regardless of who won the war. I now have a much better understanding of why some peop ...more
Audra (Unabridged Chick)
After Anouk Markovits' I Am Forbidden blew my mind, I was pretty curious to see what Hogarth's other offerings would be like, and if they continue putting out books as good as this and I Am Forbidden, then I will be a very happy, happy readergirl.

Forgive me in advance for my clumsy attempt to summarize this novel; it is more rich than what I can articulate. Set in 1960s Vietnam, the story follows Percival Chen, a Chinese headmaster living in Cholon with his son. As the country shifts from being
...more
Judith
Dec 16, 2012 Judith rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This strange book took awhile to catch my interest but when it was over I was really sad to leave the characters and the setting. This is an historical fiction set in Vietnam during the 60's and 70's, and because you know how certain things turned out, there is quite a bit of situational irony. I found myself gripping the edge of my chair, saying, "get out now while you can!"

Chan is the owner/headmaster of a prestigious English school in Saigon. He happens to be Chinese and this heritage alone
...more
Lisa Brackmann
Jul 16, 2012 Lisa Brackmann rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Vincent Lam's THE HEADMASTER'S WAGER is a suspenseful character study set mainly in Vietnam during the civil war, told from a perspective that is unfamiliar to most Americans, that of a Chinese expat, Perceval Chen, who has lived in Vietnam for decades. Perceval still considers himself Chinese and has no real interest in assimilating to the culture of his adopted home. In reality, he is a man with no country—he just doesn’t know it yet. The suspense comes in the slow building of the disaster tha ...more
krystal
I saw this book on my aunt's kitchen table so that's why I wanted to read it.

(Me: Uncle, what is this book about?
Uncle: I think it's your aunt's book.
Aunt: Yes, I just started it.
Book: I'm a book about a compulsive gambler navigating a multi-ethnic Saigon during the Vietnam War!
Me: Oh, cool.
Me, inwardly: A narrative about Sino-Vietnamese people during the Indochinese Wars? With an anti-hero who owns his over-inflated ego and identity issues along with an English-speaking private school? *gasps*
...more
serena
Sep 11, 2013 serena rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, asia
A page-turner and I learned a lot about Vietnam and the war.
Robert Ronsson
Feb 05, 2015 Robert Ronsson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: top-ten
This is a brilliant book. It has everything I look for. A skilfully constructed plot that has the power to surprise, writing that is literary and delightful without being showy or obscure and characters that live in the mind. It is packed full of the tricks of the novel-writing trade - eg foreshadowing, narrative motifs, anagnorisis, peripeteia (look them up, I did!) unreliable narrating - but is so well put together that its readability is never compromised. Masterly storytelling.
(Thanks, David
...more
Carolyn Mck
Jul 17, 2015 Carolyn Mck rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The parents of Vincent Lam, a doctor and writer, were expatriate Chinese in Vietnam. He was born in Canada in 1974 so his family had obviously left before the Communist victory in 1975. This background has given him a strong understanding of the Chinese community in Cholon (Saigon's Chinatown) and how many tried to stay aloof from the conflict so that they could continue to do business. The North Vietnamese and their southern cadres are mostly shown in a very negative light, including their use ...more
Jeanette
Aug 17, 2012 Jeanette rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Headmaster's Wager tells the story of flawed characters who struggle with their life choices. The setting for the book is Vietnam and covers the periods from Japanese occupation through the U.S. involvement in the Vietnamese civil war to the U.S. troops leaving Vietnam to Vietnamese unification.

One of the central themes in the book is mixed marriage and how children from these mixed marriages were regarded. Another theme of the book is what is right and what is wrong and the choices people
...more
Deux Voiliers
Feb 18, 2013 Deux Voiliers rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Vincent Lam’s writing career has barely begun, but already he is becoming a literary icon in Canada. His Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, a collection of short stories, won Lam Canada’s most prestigious literary award, the Giller Prize, and his first novel, The Headmaster’s Wager, was short-listed for the 2012 Governor General’s Award. What is it that makes Lam’s work great?

It takes only reading the first chapter of The Headmaster’s Wager to understand that Lam excels in the art of traditional
...more
Kyle
Oct 01, 2012 Kyle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Spanning the full duration of the Vietnam War, this novel is the saga of a Chinese man who immigrated to Cholon, near Saigon, became headmaster of a school for the English language, and tried desperately not to repeat the mistakes that his father made; however, as history is apt to do, the Headmaster, Percival, seems to get stuck in a cycle of wagers that parallel his father's fatal choices. Percival gambles with fate, tempting pleasure, excess, pride, lust, when all he truly desires is honour ...more
Susan
Jul 17, 2012 Susan rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is an amazing novel and one I'm not going to forget. Vincent Lam is a fabulous storyteller and an emergency room physician when he's not writing. The Headmaster is Percival Chen, an overseas Chinese who settles in Saigon's Cholon (Chinatown) district with his Hong Kong-born wife. The two have a child, Dai Jai, who is eight when they divorce.

Percival gambles, drinks, and visits brothels. At his side is his trusted friend and colleague, Mr. Mak. It's Mak who convinces Percival to open an Eng
...more
Steven Buechler
May 29, 2012 Steven Buechler rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The is going to be one of the best releases of 2012.

Page 6
"Looking at his son was like examining himself at that age. At sixteen, Dai Jai had a man's height, and, Percival assumed, certain desires. A boy's impatience for their satisfaction was to be expected. Like Percival, Dai Jai had probing eyes, and full lips. Percival often thought it might be his lips which gave him such strong appetities, and wondered if it was the same for his son. Between Dai Jai's eyebrows, and traced from his nose aro
...more
Shonna Froebel
Nov 17, 2012 Shonna Froebel rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
This novel is set in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but also looks back at the main character's life up to this point. Chen Pie Sou (Percival Chen) was born in China. His father dreamed of the Gold Mountain, earning money elsewhere to make a better life for his family. But he got caught up in the life there and seldom came home to his wife and child. When his mother died, Chen was sent to school in Hong Kong, where he learned English and set the road for his future. The Japanese invasion of Hon ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 99 100 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Read It Forward: * THE HEADMASTER'S WAGER by Vincent Lam 5 25 Sep 12, 2012 08:48AM  
  • Jezebel's Ladder (Jezebel's Ladder, #1)
  • Blood Zero Sky
  • The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters, Volume Two (Miss Temple, Doctor Svenson, and Cardinal Chang #1.2)
  • House of Corruption
  • Hour of the Rat (Ellie McEnroe, #2)
  • Slab City Blues: The Ballad of Bad Jack (Slab City Blues ,#4)
  • Bone Wires
  • Brambleman
  • Studio Saint-ex
  • Snap
  • Blood Rush (Demimonde, #2)
  • The Beauty of Humanity Movement
  • I Know Not (The Legacy of Fox Crow, #1)
  • Murder Below Montparnasse  (Aimee Leduc Investigations #13)
  • The Search Angel
  • The Prophet
  • Why Men Lie (The Cape Breton Trilogy #3)
  • Indian Horse

Share This Book