The headmaster of the most respected English school in Saigon, Percival Chen is also a bon vivant, a compulsive gambler and an incorrigible womanizer. Fiercely proud of his Chinese heritage, and quick to spot the business opportunities rife in a divided country, Percival 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.
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. But 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.