Winner of the 2019 Governor General’s Award for Fiction

In the tradition of The Poisonwood Bible comes a novel set in the rainforest of Ecuador about five women left behind when their missionary husbands are killed. Based on shocking real-life events.

It was the 1950’s, the war was over, and pacifists like Olive’s husband sat it out. Then the men hear stories of an Amazonian people who have never had peaceful contact with the outside world, and start to dream up their own adventure: they’ll be the first to evangelize “the Auca.”

Olive is an uncertain newlywed. Marj has three tiny children. Betty is a devout intellectual, Marilou a beautiful young musician who loves the rainforest people. And Rachel is an outsider, craving a place in the inner circle. When things spiral out of control, you have to ask—how complicit are they?

Five Wives is a compelling story about living in an ideological bubble: the magical thinking, the personal bargains, and the devastating consequences of clinging to mythologies at odds with the real world.

Five Wives is published by HarperCollins Canada. In stores now.

“Ambitiously conceived and beautifully written, this book is a masterful achievement.” 2019 Governor General’s Award for Fiction jury.

“To take a true, shocking story and tell it from the inside, without judgment or theatrics but with an unwavering respect for the facts and a generosity of imagination that is the hallmark of great storytelling, is no small feat. Thomas has more than risen to the challenge. This is a brave, important, utterly absorbing novel.” – Barbara Gowdy, author of Little Sister

“What a wonderful book! Joan Thomas takes us deep into Operation Auca and into the wild jungle of her characters’ hearts. This gorgeous, nuanced retelling offers up historical events in a new light and forces us to ask difficult and timely questions about colonialism, indigeneity, and faith.” – Alison Pick, author of Strangers with the Same Dream.

“Joan Thomas is like an explorer who has gone out to discover the missionary tribe, and then returned as witness to its fallibility. Thomas does not preach, nor does she judge. What amazes most is how, through a deft sleight of hand and deep compassion, the author turns the idea of salvation upside down and exposes the invader. A beauty of a story.” – David Bergen, author of Stranger.

“brilliant, eloquent, curious, far-seeing . . . Thomas is a beautiful writer and she puts lovely rhythms into the mouths of her straitlaced narrators, lovely rhythms and buried restless defiance straight out of Gerard Manley Hopkins. . . . Thomas’s remarkable feat of imagination puts her in [Alice] Munro’s league. – Russell Smith, The Globe and Mail. Read More

“Five Wives is an engrossing, thoughtful read, and a fresh testament to Thomas’s narrative powers — and her ability to locate a human pulse under the often-deafening drumbeats of religious and cultural tradition.” – Julienne Isaacs, Winnipeg Free Press.

“Joan Thomas eviscerates the myth of the benevolent missionary in this fictionalized account of how evangelicals descended on the Waorani, an Ecuadorean Indigenous community, devastating their culture and lives.” Toronto NOW.

“This is a riveting, gut-wrenching piece of true fiction (if there is such a thing), one that I read with amazement . . . a brave, totally absorbing book.” The Sun Times

“Thomas’s . . . vivid descriptions evoke a distant past, giving readers a glimpse into a bygone era and the patriarchal structures at play.” Literary Review of Canada.

“magnificent . . . Five Wives is riveting, from start to finish. The season’s must-read for historical fiction fans.” Toronto Star

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