Don't forget to drop by Bibliophile By the Sea to read Diane's selection this week and the many other wonderful contributions of other participants in this meme.
The Headmaster’s Wager by Vincent Lam
1930, Shantou, China
On a winter night shortly after the New Year festivities, Chen Kai sat on the edge of the family kang, the brick bed. He settled the blanket around his son. “Gwai jai,” he said. Well-behaved boy. “Close your eyes." “Sit with me?” said Chen Pie Sou with a yawn. “You promised . . .” “I will.” He would stay until the boy slept. A little more delay.
Muy Fa had insisted that Chen Kai remain for the New Year celebration, never mind that the coins from their poor autumn’s harvest were almost gone. What few coins there were, after the landlord had taken his portion of the crop. Chen Kai had con-ceded that it would be bad luck to leave just before the holiday and agreed to stay a little longer. Now, a few feet away in their one-room home, Muy Fa scraped the tough skin of rice from the bottom of the pot for the next day’s porridge. Chen Kai smoothed his son’s hair. “If you are to grow big and strong, you must sleep.” Chen Pie Sou was as tall as his father’s waist. He was as big as any boy of his age, for his parents often accepted the knot of hunger in order to feed him.
“Why . . .” A hesitation, the choosing of words. “Why must I grow big and strong?” A fear in the tone, of his father’s absence.
“For your ma, and your ba.” Chen Kai tousled his son’s hair. “For China.”
Later that night, Chen Kai was to board a train. In the morning, he would arrive at the coast, locate a particular boat. A village connection, a cheap passage without a berth. Then, a week on the water to reach Cholon. This place in Indochina was just like China, he had heard, except with money to be made, from both the Annamese and their French rulers.
With his thick, tough fingers, Chen Kai fumbled to undo the charm that hung from his neck. He reached around his son’s neck as if to embrace him, care- fully knotted the strong braid of pig gut. Chen Pie Sou searched his chest, and his hand recognized the family good luck charm, a small, rough lump of gold.
What are your thoughts about these paragraphs? Would you read this book based on these paragraphs?