Review: The House of Wives by Simon Choa-Johnston


Category: Adult Fiction

Published: May 2016

 Read: November 2016

Score: 3.5/5

Synopsis: (Goodreads) In 1862, a young Jew from Calcutta named Emanuel Belilios leaves his dutiful wife Semah and sets sail for Hong Kong to make his fortune in the opium trade. There, he grows into a prosperous and respectable merchant, eventually falling in love with his Chinese business partner’s daughter Pearl, a delicate beauty twenty years his junior. As a wedding present, he builds for her the most magnificent mansion in Hong Kong. Then Semah arrives unannounced from Calcutta to take her place as mistress of the house…and life will change irrevocably for all of them.

Review: This is a fiction novel for historical lovers. It is a fast read and very fast paced and full of heart and courage and a bunch of other great things. It’s an era I am not fully aware about and was glad to read as you don’t come across a lot of books regarding the Opium trade in Asian countries. 14006_934_1-201491921548_540x360

It’s a story of Emmunal Belilios and his life as a trader. He grew up in the trade as his father also grew and sold Opium, and he got in on it. Having something to prove being the 2nd son and having no expectations. He succeeds only by marrying Semah and using her dowry to gain the drug and go and sell it. Along the way he gains two business partners in doing this and is of course successful. His marriage with Semah isn’t the greatest as she doesn’t produce him an heir right away. Emmunal eventually decides to stay in Hong Kong and marries another women there. Semah finds out and travels to Hong Kong and decides to take up residence in the same house as the 2nd wife. Emmunal is generous and with a big house divides it and hence we now have the “house of wives”. It’s two women who co-exist together trying to be the number one and having everything for themselves and their children while Emmunal keeps amassing wealth.

2016-handout-simon-chua-author-of-house-of-wives-photo-byThat is basically the story, it goes between the two women and Emmunal. You get a bit of everything, what it’s like living in a plural marriage like that in that time, as well as the business of drugs when it’s completely legal to sell. It’s richly told and you get a lot of emotions out of the book like happiness, sadness and even some confusion.

It is  a very faced paced book. So much so that you have to try to figure out sometimes how old people are now and how long it’s been since we last saw the characters. That is one thing that lost a point on this book. It’s a good story don’t get me wrong, but not one I will want to read again or will pass along. That is why it got less marks than it could have been. It’s not badly written at all, overall the writing is smooth and easy to read. opium_dandy_pacha

Apparently this story is based on the author’s own ancestors which is really nice. So you know at least some of it can be true and that fiction is filled in. If you really like this type of book or historical fiction this is very for you. Not so much for anyone younger as there is a lot of sex talk and drug talk.

I would be interested to see what else this author comes out with.



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