The Headmaster’s Wager


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As a result of this success, the boy Chen Pie Sou is brought to Hong Kong for his education, renamed Percival by his European teachers, marries a fellow student Cecilia, and then flees Hong Kong after the brutal Japanese invasion, ending up in Saigon. Japanese occupation of the latter city is no less vicious than their treatment of Hong Kong, but Percival and his wife survive.

A skillful tale of survival in Vietnam

Japan surrenders and blood continues to flow. Now the fighting is between Vietnamese Communists and successively the French, the South Vietnamese and the Americans.

THE HEADMASTER'S WAGER by Vincent Lam | Kirkus Reviews

Percival, meanwhile, makes a small fortune as owner and headmaster of an English language school, attracting students who hope to obtain jobs with the Americans. In telling his story through the point of view of Percival, Lam has taken a certain risk since Percival is not a charming man. His marriage with Cecilia is a disaster — the woman is a harpy who despises Percival from the beginning and eventually leaves him to cavort with American bigwigs. His chief and only emotional tie is to his son Dai Lai, although Percival does eventually contract a relationship with a woman of half-French and half-Vietnamese descent named Jacqueline.


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  7. The Headmaster's Wager by by Vincent Lam: Summary and reviews!

Initially driven mostly by sex, Percival genuinely falls in love with her. He cannot marry her, however.


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  • She is not Chinese. There is no solution to this impediment since Percival is what one might call a Chinese chauvinist of the deepest dye. He refuses to hire a Vietnamese language teacher at the behest of the government, and he sends Dai Lai to China to avoid the draft. The Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution is about to erupt in that country, hungry for victims such as the bourgeois Dai Lai, but Percival will not listen to warnings from Cecilia.

    Vincent Lam: The Headmaster's Wager

    In similar fashion, he blithely ignores impending doom from the North. As depicted by Lam, then, Percival is almost a caricature of a Chinese businessman. Certainly his spiritual horizons are low, his religion consisting of praying to his ancestors in moments of difficulty and worshipping the gods of luck.

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    Curiously, the latter deities do seem to respond to their votary. Percival is a wizard at the mah-jong table. These devices are insufficient, however, in vitalizing the character.


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    • Almost to the end, Percival remains a doughty but stubborn and foolhardy soul whose emotions do not engage the reader. Manage Magazine Subscription.

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