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By Vincent Lam

“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. Lee , author of the New York Times bestseller The Piano Teacher

The Headmaster’s Wager does what only the very best literature can do: it provides characters you care about deeply (even as they break your heart) and has plot twists you don’t see coming but then couldn’t imagine any other way. Vincent Lam has written a mature and rewarding novel of the highest quality, and Percival Chen will remain with you long after the final page. This is an exceptional book.”
-Andrew Davidson, author of The Gargoyle


Lam_Headmaster's Wager

From Giller Prize winner, internationally acclaimed, and bestselling author Vincent Lam comes a superbly crafted, highly suspenseful, and deeply affecting novel set against the turmoil of the Vietnam War.

Percival Chen is the headmaster of the most respected English school in Saigon. He is also a bon vivant, a compulsive gambler and an incorrigible womanizer. He is well accustomed to bribing a forever-changing list of government officials in order to maintain the elite status of the Chen Academy. He is fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, and quick to spot the business opportunities rife in a divided country. He devotedly ignores all news of the fighting that swirls around him, choosing instead to read the faces of his opponents at high-stakes mahjong tables. 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, and Laing Jai, a son born to them on the eve of the Tet offensive. Percival’s new-found happiness is precarious, and as the complexities of war encroach further and further into his world, he must confront the tragedy of all he has refused to see.

Blessed with intriguingly flawed characters moving through a richly drawn historical and physical landscape, The Headmaster’s Wager is a riveting story of love, betrayal and sacrifice.

CBS Interview

‘How To Write a Novel About Your Family’ in Publishers Weekly

US Book Trailer

“Vincent Lam’s first novel, about Vietnam, has makings of a masterpiece… a powerful and engrossing work.”
The Globe and Mail

“[A] sumptuously plotted first novel… Lam goes for the jugular, combining an operatic love story…with evocations of Vietnam’s occupation by the Japanese and the later horrors of the Vietcong’s persecution of the city of Hue.”
The New York Times Book Review

“Lam, a Canadian whose family lived for a time in Vietnam’s community of Chinese expatriates, is sensitive to the complexities of allegiance, to the impossibility of being impartial, and to the way that, in war, every gambit, no matter how well calculated, entails loss.”
-The New Yorker

“In The Headmaster’s Wager, Lam has created a genuine page-turner. The author takes full advantage of the inherent suspense as the fall of Saigon looms and Chen finally realizes that he and his family may not survive the violence of the Viet Cong. The Headmaster’s Wager is a novel full of surprises and excitement.”
Quill & Quire

“Lam, an emergency physician in Toronto, vividly imparts the ways in which life is a high-stakes game of chance. Here, his ability to convey the scope of his character’s experiences through moments and gestures fills a greater canvas, artfully portraying heritage’s influence and the enduring ties between sires and heirs.”

“[T]ransfixing…This is a novel of many startling twists and turns… Lam has created a hypnotically tragic tale, epic in scope. One can only hope he will continue and fill in the years between the end of this novel and the beginning of “The Long Migration.” It could turn out to be his Gold Mountain.”
Toronto Star

“It’s that street-level view of a story we’re more accustomed to viewing in panorama that ultimately makes Lam’s novel so effective and affecting. In stages so subtle they’re scarcely noticeable until he’s got you fully in his grip, Lam combines elements of historical fiction, political thriller and domestic drama to present one of the 20th century’s defining stories in a whole new way. The Headmaster’s Wager is more than just an absorbing read. It’s a testament and memorial in fiction to a community that no longer exists.”
Montreal Gazette

“Lam’s compelling family saga has believable characters manoeuvring in situations beyond their control, making desperate decisions in the hope of surviving the geo-political battles waging around them.The story is a suspenseful page turner, with the fate of many lives resting on the roll of the dice.A sweeping story, The Headmaster’s Wager was the first novel Lam wrote, which has now found its final form. The wait has proven worthwhile. Vincent Lam has turned out a winning wager.”
Winnipeg Free Press

Vincent Lam’s novel was a labour of love. It puts him very definitely on the map of accomplished Canadian writers.”
-Waterloo Record

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

“[A] masterfully paced exploration of a world convulsed by war, wherein faith and reason no longer hold sway.”
Publishers Weekly (starred)

“Lam’s straightforward prose draws readers into wartime Saigon, where everyone is on the take and choosing the wrong allies can prove deadly… Readers who enjoyed Denis Johnson’s The Tree of Smoke will appreciate this Vietnamese view of the conflict.”
Library Journal (starred review)

“The Headmaster’s Wager is an emotional rollercoaster, filled with sights and sounds and smells that are foreign, yet described in a way with which anyone can connect. It should definitely be at the top of everyone’s list for a fresh read.”
BookPeople’s Blog

“I chose this book, not because it is a mystery or thriller, but because it’s just good. It’s one of those books you read and walk away from, carrying it with you and thinking about it…Vincent Lam is definitely an author to watch.”
Killer Nashville blog (book of the day)

“The Headmaster’s Wager is a journey of imagination, grounded by tales told to the author in his research of the Lam family’s fascinating history. This is a nicely written book that will entertain casual readers, gamblers, male chauvinists, war critics, and Maoist China haters; The Headmaster’s Wager could rise to the top of the ‘New York Times’ best seller list. This is an entertaining piece of historical fiction.”
awalkingdelight blog

“When I read Bloodletting and Miraculous Cures I was impressed (blown away actually) by Vincent Lam’s skill as a fiction writer, but I figured since it was a collection of stories about being a medical student and a doctor in Canada, maybe it wasn’t so much of a stretch. The Headmaster’s Wager, on the other hand, is in a whole different league. It’s absolute genius . Oh, and his other credits include writing something called The Flu Pandemic and You, for which he won an award from the American Medical Writers Association, and a biography of Canadian hero Tommy Douglas. At this rate, I’m almost afraid Vincent Lam won’t have another novel, since maybe he feels he’s mastered that now and will be moving on to, say, children’s books or cookbooks (both of which I would buy, by the way). One thing is for certain. If you ever meet Vincent Lam, you should probably ask him to build you some furniture or teach you sign language or something. Even if he’s never done it before, odds are he’s a genius at that too. ”
Cozy Little Book Journal

“With The Headmaster’s Wager, Lam has produced a grand, sweeping saga that vividly re-creates 40 crucial years of Asian history from Japanese invasion to the “freeing” of South Vietnam… Lam conjures a little known world — the somewhat incestuous Chinese expatriate community of war-torn Vietnam — with memorable pictures, imaginative plotlines and complex characters, creating an intimate portrait of a family nearly destroyed by historical events and its own hubris.”
San Antonio Express


Doubleday, Canada, May 2012

Hogarth/Crown, US, August 2012

Fourth Estate, UK, June 2012



Governor General’s Literary Award finalist

Heather Reisman (founder and CEO of Indigo Books) Summer Pick & Top 100 in 2012

Indigo Best of 2012

Canadian Bookseller’s Pick 2012

Other Books by Vincent Lam