PBR Review
Book club discussion questions-The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran

The Wives of Hnery Oades

by Johanna Moran

PBR Book Review: This is a very unique tale made more intriguing because it is based on a true court case. Book clubs in particular should enjoy this book, there’s lots of thought provoking legal and moral discussion points. Henry, thinking his wife is dead, marries another woman, only to discover his first wife is very much alive. To compound matters, it takes place in the 1800’s, a time when it’s difficult for women to survive on their own. It’s told from the perspective of the wives in a marvelous writing style that allows the story to flow and emotional connections to the characters to grow. I was particularly enamored of the relationship that developed between the wives as they shared a husband they both loved and equally disappointed in the reaction of the community to this unusual and unexpected situation. Although I would have liked more detail on the Maori Indian tribe and the thoughts and feelings of Henry, the book pulled me in emotionally, a fantastic debut novel. I recommend this book to those who like historical fiction or anyone who enjoys a good story about the strength of the human spirit. I look forward to this author’s next novel.

*Author Website: http://www.johannamoran.com/

*Discussion Questions

1. On the voyage to New Zealand, Mrs. Randolph, a fellow passenger, cares for Margaret as she miscarries. Later, when Margaret tries to explain her grief over her new friend’s death to Henry, she thinks, “the small transactions between women, particularly mothers, cannot adequately be explained to a man. Some, like hers with Mrs. Randolph, will bind women for life.” Do you agree with Margaret? Can a strong relationship between women be forged in a matter of hours? With whom have you felt this connection?

2. Why do you think Mr. Oades misidentified Mim Bell as his wife? How could he have made such a grievous error?

3. Margaret refers to the quid pro quo of her faith: "One takes communion every single Sunday for thirty- odd years. One humbles herself, embraces every last dogmatic note, and no good comes of it, no help when one needs it most." Nancy, too, feels as though she has been cheated. Mora-9780345510952-2p-bm-r1.s.qxp 9/1/09 3:36 PM Page 365 Have people?s expectations of contemporary Christianity changed?

4. Margaret teaches her children lessons every evening: grammar, mathematics, and etiquette. "It was her duty to prepare them for their return. She refused to accept the possibility that they might grow old and die a natural death here. Margaret never once considered setting her children free to be slaves." She refuses to allow her children to live the life before them, planning, instead, for the life she hopes they will claim. Why does Margaret remain so steadfast during their captivity? Henry finally accepts that his loved ones are dead, and eventually he marries another woman. What is the catalyst for this turning point? Do you agree with his actions?

5. Henry finally accepts that his loved ones are dead, and eventually he marries another woman. What is the catalyst for this turning point? Do you agree with his actions?

6. Why do Margaret and the children receive such a chilly welcome when they finally return to the village from the Maori camp?

7. Several matches proposed in this book seem made for convenience: Portia and Henry, Margaret and Captain Fisk of the Sacramento, and even Nancy and Henry, at least in the beginning. Do you agree? If so, why do you think that is?

8. At what point do Margaret and Nancy start to get along? What sparks their friendship?

9. Though it?s a wretched situation for everyone involved, which Mrs. Oades do you think suffers most? With which woman do you most identify?

10. Was there a better solution for Mr. Oades and his non - traditional family? Or did they make the best possible choice? Would there be a better solution today? What would it be?

11. The claims of the Daughters of Decency seem ridiculous to modern ears. Can you think of any recent court battles that might seem as hysteric and unnecessary a century from now?

12. Consider the Maori premonition in the beginning of the book. How does it relate to the story?

13. What, in the end, was the main theme of this book? Were you surprised?

(Discussion Questions by Publisher)

Book Summary

Ballantine Books | Trade Paperback | February 2010 | $15.00 | 978-0-345-51095-2
In 1899 Henry Oades discovers he has two wives ' and many dilemmas'?In 1890, Henry Oades decided to undertake the arduous sea voyage from England to New Zealand in order to further his family's fortunes. Here they settled on the lush but wild coast ' although it wasn't long before disaster struck in the most unexpected of ways.A local Maori tribe, incensed at their treatment at the hands of the settlers, kidnapped Mrs Oades and her four children, and vanished into the rugged hills surrounding the town.

Henry searched ceaselessly for his family, but two grief-stricken years later was forced to conclude that they must be dead. In despair he shipped out to San Francisco to start over, eventually falling in love with and marrying a young widow.In the meantime, Margaret Oades and her children were leading a miserable existence, enslaved to the local tribe. When they contracted smallpox they were cast out and, ill and footsore, made their way back to town, five years after they were presumed dead.Discovering that Henry was now half a world away, they were determined to rejoin him. So months later they arrived on his doorstep in America and Henry Oades discovered that he had two wives and many dilemmas '?This is a darkly comic but moving historical fiction debut about love and family, based on a controversial court case from the early 1900s.
Looking for more reading suggestions?
Visit Our Blog
Browse A Little
Sign Up For Our Free Newsletter