We first meet Percival as a boy called Chen Pie Sou in Shantou, China. He’s a flawed—and interesting—character who never seems to quite know himself. “Are you still oblivious to everything that happens around you, just like in the old days?” asks Mrs. Ling. Oblivious he might be, but in his own way, he tries to do the right thing. Percival’s good intentions and obsessions lead to intrigue and drama, as well as becoming integral to the tapestry of love Vincent Lam weaves.
Writers of fictional memoir might want to read this book with an eye as to how Vincent Lam weaves facts, second-hand memory, and fiction together. He acknowledges,
“My parents helped me with generous recollections of their childhoods in Vietnam. The specific details and anecdotes that they shared with me were invaluable in my understanding of life’s rhythms in that era. My late grandfather, William Lin, inspired the fictional protagonist of this novel.”
Reading as a writer, is one of the best ways to develop your skills. As you read “The Headmaster’s Wager ask yourself how he:
- Accomplishes the hook;
- Maintains interest;
- Threads a story through inter-connected problems and their solutions;
- Brings scenes, situations, and place alive;
- Develops character (not only that of the protagonist, but also others); and
- After the twists and turns, rewards with a satisfying conclusion (whether it’s a happy one or not).
Lam provides us with a story that not simply allows us into the world of the expat Chinese community in Vietnam during the Vietnam War, but he creates a fictional memoir that reads with a truth that is often absent from more factual or completely fictional works.
I remember Vietnam War journalism as it splashed across the pages of newspapers, as well as sit-ins and other anti-war protests of the era. Vincent Lam’s The Headmaster’s Wager takes us through a doorway into the lives of people living through the pain, upheaval and turmoil in the county. Enjoy this complex book that stirs emotions of longing, joy, and unmeasurable sadness.
Available through your local bookstore or online: The Headmaster’s Wager