Michael's Reviews > The Headmaster's Wager

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam
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's review
Jun 11, 2012

liked it
Read from June 11 to 18, 2012

I'll call this review 3.5 stars. I wish Goodreads had half-stars. Anyhow, I digress.

The Headmaster's Wager is the story of Percival Chen, the headmaster of an English academy in Vietnam. The setting is the Vietnam war, and Cholon and Saigon are full of corruption and uneasiness. The story takes place over several years, and is filled with twists and turns.

But enough about a lame, spoiler-free plot summary. I definitely enjoyed the book, but I thought that it declined a bit in the last hundred pages or so.

One of the press releases for this book talks about how Lam portrays flawed characters, and flawed they are. Percival is greedy and lecherous, Dai Jai is full of hubris and Mak is too mysterious for his own good. And these are only some of the main characters. I generally didn't find Percival to be an endearing or sympathetic character, and I'm sure Lam intended it to be that way.

My problem with the book comes during the book's climax. One thing that this book does is continually throw twists and turns at you. A few you might be able to figure out, but several come out of left field. It makes the narrative slightly unpredictable, but as more twists come in the story becomes more and more difficult to suspend one's disbelief for.

Ludicrousness aside, I enjoyed the historical aspect of the novel. My knowledge of the Vietnam war is very slim- all I ever knew about it was the reponse to it in America. To actually see it happen in Vietnam was something else. It was interesting to hear outdated terms like "Saigon" and "piastres" (the old South Vietnamese currency) and to see how they change later on as the war draws to a close.

If anything, this book is a good character portrait, particularly of Percival, and a good historical drama. However, be prepared for the aforementioned (sometimes ridiculous) twists that Lam will pepper the narrative with.


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