Percival Chen is the headmaster of the most respected English academy in 1960s Saigon, and he is well accustomed to bribing a forever-changing list of government officials in order to maintain the elite status of his school. Fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, he is quick to spot the business opportunities rife in a divided country, though he also harbors a weakness for gambling haunts and the women who frequent them. He devotedly ignores all news of the fighting that swirls around him, 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 whom he is able to confide in. But Percival's new-found happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further into his world, he must confront the tragedy of all he has refused to see.
Graced with intriguingly flawed but wonderfully human characters moving through a richly drawn historical landscape, The Headmaster's Wager is an unforgettable story of love, betrayal and sacrifice.
The only thing I didn't like about this book? The cover. Other than that it was a beautiful read in every way.
Percival Chen is a Chinese man teaching English in war time Vietnam. At first this doesn't seem to be much of a challenge for him. He's been there a long time and he has a loyal ally who helps steer him through all of the channels of the government to get the certifications that his school needs. But, as happens in war time, nothing stays the same for long. The tides quickly change for Mr. Chen. Reading about how he deals with the growing violence and the threat to his way of life was entertaining and educational and at times had me holding my breath.
I was very impressed with the characters, language, setting and pacing in this book. If you've read it I'd love to hear what you thought. If it wasn't on your radar before it definitely should be.