The Bukowski Agency - The House of Wives

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92,000 words
Final page proofs now available


Canada: Penguin, May 2016
India English: Penguin, 2016
Israel: Keter Publishing House


Simon Choa-Johnston
(Photo; David Cooper)

Born and raised in Hong Kong, Simon Choa-Johnston came to Canada to attend McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, and graduated in 1972, after which he went to New York for postgraduate theatre studies. He has worked in Canadian theatre for over twenty-five years as an Artistic Director, Director (over 200 productions), and Playwright. He was awarded the Governor General's Canada 125 Medal, has been nominated for the prestigious W.O. Mitchell Literary Prize, and was inducted into McMaster University's Alumni Gallery.

Simon's recent plays include: Sisters at Gateway Theatre in Richmond, B.C. (January/ February 2013, previously seen at Factory Theatre Cross Currents, Toronto); Rice Rockets & Yacht People (Gateway 2005); Jessie Nominated Best Play Wildcat (Western Canada Theatre); Gold Mountain Guest (Arts Club and Kaleidoscope - Belfry Theatre), and The Giveaways (London, Ontario). Running Dog, Paper Tiger won Theatre BC's 1995 National Playwrights Award, premiered in 1997 at the Gateway, and was nominated for a Jessie Award for Best Play. Simon has written six plays for CBC's “Morningside” and CBC Radio Drama, as well as episodes for “Riverdale” on CBC-TV and documentaries for History Television and Man Alive.

Simon spent twelve years as the Artistic & Executive Director of the Gateway Theatre in Richmond, B.C., from 2000 – 2012. He left a legacy of innovative theatrical programming in addition to the creation of numerous programs that moved the company from local-player to regional-theatre status. These achievements resulted in Simon winning a Richmond Arts Award for Cultural Leadership and in being named Gateway Theatre’s first Artistic Director Emeritus. Since leaving the Gateway he has focused his attention on his novel, The House of Wives.


The House of Wives - Penguin India cover

The House of Wives

a novel by Simon Choa-Johnston


The House of Wives - Canadian cover

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.

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, where the interests of the Near East and the Far East would clash for years to come.


“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


Choa-Johnston photo 1
Simon Choa-Johnston’s ancestral home, Kingsclere, circa 1880, on what is now known as
Kennedy Terrace, Hong Kong. Today only the foundations remain.

Choa-Johnston photo 2
Simon Choa-Johnston's great-grandmother, Pearl, is at the centre of this photo in black, with a little black cap. His grandmother, Felicie Choa, Emanuel's and Pearl's daughter, is second to her left in white. His mother, Pauline, Emanuel and Pearl's granddaughter, is at Pearl's knee in white. Others are siblings and family friends. The photo was taken at the Choa mansion on the hillside property at #5 Broadwood Road, overlooking Happy Valley, Hong Kong, circa 1925.


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