The House of Wives | Penguin Random House Canada

The House of Wives

Publisher: Penguin Canada
Two women compete for the affections of their opium merchant husband in a tale of friendship, fortune and rivalry in colonial Hong Kong

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.

Inspired by the lives of Choa-Johnston's ancestors, The House of Wives is an unforgettable novel about the machinations of the early opium trade, and about two remarkable women determined to secure a dynasty for their children in the tumultuous British Crown colony.


“From playwright Simon Choa-Johnston comes a powerful narrative that could only be delivered by a perceptive mind enriched by a worldview formed by decades of multifarious experiences which, in turn, are articulated with nuanced literary finesse.”—THE PIONEER, New Delhi
“Simon Johnston has written a rollicking great novel that kept me turning the pages so fast they almost burst into flames. With a powerful and lush sense of place, this story of love, opium, and an exotic city will leave its mark on you as it did on me. Sublime storytelling.” —TERRY FALLIS, author of No Relation and Poles Apart
“The achievement of this epic novel is that it will not leave you alone—it will call to you (even in the night) to return to its colourful, daring and sometimes outrageous characters and to keep up with them until they are ready to let you go. What a feat of artistry and storytelling!” —JOSEPH KERTES, author of Winter Tulips and Gratitude
“In this richly imagined tale, Simon Choa-Johnston fleshes out the bones of his exotic ancestry and gives it the theatrical sweep of opera – engrossing.” —PLUM JOHNSON, Charles Taylor Prize-winning author of They Left Us Everything
“The story of the two strong women jousting for Emanuel's love is the most compelling feature of the book.” —THE ASIAN AGE, India
“With gripping descriptions in beautiful language, the narrative leaves a reader wanting for more.” —HINDUSTAN TIMES, New Delhi
“Although set in the 1800s, this remarkable story about a Jewish opium seller in Hong Kong and his two wives reinforces how notions of love, family, betrayal, and ambition are universally consistent.” —THE PIONEER, New Delhi