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 House of Wives


Listen: McMaster University Podcast

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.           more ...

photo by Emily Cooper

“… a well-woven tale that traverses ethnic and diasporic boundaries. A superb saga of transmigrational experiences and sensibilities. I applaud Simon’s terrific novel and can’t wait to read the sequel. Jim Wong Chiu, Asian Canadian Writers Workshop.

Few narratives highlight the unlikely alliances between the Baghdadi Jews and Chinese during this zenith of British colonialism, fewer still with the humanity, tenderness and unflinching gaze Simon Choa-Johnston brings to the page. Be prepared to care deeply for these characters…” Anna Ling Kaye, Editor (rtd) Rice Paper Magazine