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A superbly crafted, highly suspenseful debut novel of love, loyalty and sacrifice

The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam

A superbly crafted, highly suspenseful debut novel of love, loyalty and sacrifice

The Headmaster's Wager

Vincent Lam
  • Imprint: Hogarth
  • On sale: August 14, 2012
  • Price: $25.00
  • Pages: 432
  • ISBN: 9780307986467
Contact: Rachel Rokicki

Advance Praise

“A masterfully paced exploration of a world convulsed by war, wherein faith and reason no longer hold sway…Lam marshals his characters with humor suspense, and tenderness.”

Publishers Weekly, starred review

“In his first novel, Lam provides both an unusual perspective on the Vietnam War and a sweeping story of one man’s brutal education in realpolitik.”


“Lam, winner of the Scotiabank Giller prize for his short story collection Bloodletting and Other Miraculous Cures, has created a tour de force that reaches from the Japanese occupation of Hong Kong to the American withdrawal from Vietnam in 1975.”

Library Journalstarred review

“Lam writes tellingly about intrigue, political collusion and the clash of cultures.” 


“A first novel of astonishing force, craft and beauty, The Headmaster’s Wager conjures up a dizzyingly evocative wartime Saigon in the story of Percival Chen, a Chinese schoolmaster in Vietnam. This extraordinary book made me weep.  Read it.”

— Janice Y.K. Leeauthor of the New York Times bestseller The Piano Teacher

Dr. Vincent Lam is the internationally bestselling author of the short story collection Bloodletting & Miraculous Cures, which won Canada’s top literary award, the Giller Prize, as well as receiving broad critical acclaim.  Time magazine exclaimed, “Emotionally complex and layered, with a preternaturally surefooted negotiation of the human mind and heart, Lam’s insanely gripping book is also illuminated by shafts of radiant, beautiful prose” and The New York Times called it “a demonstration of fiction’s unique power.” Now, in his much-anticipated debut novel The Headmaster’s Wager (Hogarth; On-sale August 14, 2012) Lam brings us a riveting story of love, betrayal, and sacrifice.  Drawing from his own family background, including the life of his grandfather, who inspires the lead character, along with extensive historical research, Lam illuminates the complexities of war through his deeply affecting characters.

Percival Chen is the wealthy headmaster of the most respected English-language academy in Saigon in 1966.  Chen is fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, and quick to spot the business opportunities rife in a divided country. He builds a rich life for himself and his only son, Dai Jai, through his many contacts and clever negotiations.  But Chen also has many failings: he is a bon vivant, a compulsive gambler at the high-stakes mahjongg tables, and has a taste for drink, as well as a weakness for women.

When Dai Jai gets into trouble with the Vietnamese authorities, Chen faces the limits of his connections and is forced to send him back to China, albeit reluctantly. In the loneliness that follows, Chen finds solace in Jacqueline, a beautiful woman of mixed French and Vietnamese heritage.  But Chen’s new-found happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further into his world, he is forced to confront the escalating tragedy around him.

THE HEADMASTER’S WAGER illuminates the experiences of the Chinese community within Vietnam, at a time when Asian traditions and world events collided, the emotional dynamics of inter-racial romances in wartime Vietnam, and the activities of the Vietnamese secret police during the war. This sweeping novel also vividly recounts the Japanese occupation of China, the French colonization of Vietnam, and the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Lam masterfully brings these major historical events to life through a story that explores both the complexities of war and the enduring bond between a father and son.


DR. VINCENT LAM is from the expatriate Chinese community of Vietnam. Born in Canada, Lam is an emergency physician and a lecturer with the Department of Family and Community Medicine at the University of Toronto.  He has also worked in international air evacuation and expedition medicine on Arctic and Antarctic ships.  Dr. Lam’s first book, Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures, won the 2006 Giller Prize and has been adapted for television and broadcast on HBO Canada.

The Crown Publishing Group