I suppose I'm just one of those people who can only learn from direct experience. Especially when it comes to history, I need to live it in order to get it.
In short, I need to read it.
And not a dry history of whatever it is -- not a summary of this battle and that battle, this general, that president, this body count, that treaty. Nope.
I need a story. I need characters. I need some fiction in my non.
So it is with The Headmaster's Wager by Vincent Lam, a book I recently received as a part of From Left to Write on-line bloggers bookclub. I read this book in two days, couldn't put it down -- emerged from the story with a whole new perspective on a time that I should have known more about.
The Vietnam War is part of my personal history. I'm not alone: surely I'm not the only child born in the early 60s who was raised on Peace Marches, wearing a fringed suede vest of my father's creation with a green peace sign over my heart.
Growing up during this war was a deeply formative experience. The first political act I ever took on my own was a letter to President Nixon about this war and how wrong it was. In response, I received my first-ever political disappointment: a form letter and a glossy autographed photo of the First Family.
But that's not to say that until I read The Headmaster's Wager that I had any other understanding of this war, any understanding other than the one I earned by living here, in this country, from the 60s until now. I had never understood anything about forces at play in Vietnam, really. Why would I?
And that's the marvel of books for me. Especially fiction that provides a well-researched lens onto history, onto viewpoints I would otherwise not have access to.
Fiction is how I learned about the partition of India. Stories are how I really learned about the French Revolution and Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette and Napoleon. Novels continue to be the way that I grown and deepen my understanding of what it is to be human, whether now or in some distant or closer past. Such a treat.
Dive into The Headmaster's Wager, such a well-crafted story, and learn something about a time and place you may never even have considered. Your own world will be bigger, brighter, deeper as a consequence.
Trust me: everything I know I got from a good story. Don't miss this one. Truly great!
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 forever changing lists 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.