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The Wives of Henry Oades: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle) Paperback – February 9, 2010

4.2 out of 5 stars 97 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

An English accountant and his two wives are the subject of this intriguing and evocative debut novel based on a real-life 19th-century California bigamy case. A loving husband and attentive father, Henry Oades assures his wife, Margaret, that his posting to New Zealand will be temporary and the family makes the difficult journey. But during a Maori uprising, Margaret and her four children are kidnapped and the Oades's house is torched. Convinced his family is dead, Henry relocates to California and marries Nancy, a sad 20-year-old pregnant widow. When Margaret and the children escape, eventually making their way to California and Henry's doorstep, he does the decent thing by being a husband to both wives and father to all their offspring, a situation deemed indecent by the Berkeley Daughters of Decency. Moran presents Henry's story as if making a case in court, facts methodically revealed with just enough detail for the reader to form an independent opinion. But it's Margaret surviving the wilderness, Nancy overcoming grief and the two women bonding that give the book its heart and should make this a book group winner. (Mar.)
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Review

“A stellar debut novel . . . A historical saga seen through the lens of two wives, one husband, and the disapproving, cantankerous rabble at the end of Victorian America.”—Jamie Ford, author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet
 
“Equal parts love story and courtroom drama, Johanna Moran’s The Wives of Henry Oades is a compelling story of good people caught in impossible circumstances, and a community that rushes to judge rather than to understand.”—Meg Waite Clayton, author of The Wednesday Sisters
 
“A beguiling, promising debut.”—Kirkus Reviews
 
“Intriguing and evocative . . . [It’s] the two women bonding that give this book its heart and should make this a book group winner.”—Publishers Weekly

“Johanna Moran’s fine first novel is a fascinating story….Moran is a careful writer, a spare stylist who never wastes a word. She also has a well-tuned ear for the jargon of the period, colorful language that adds warmth, humor, and humanity to her story.”—Boston Globe
 
“Moran focuses her satisfying, briskly paced novel on Henry’s two wives. Their experiences and attitudes are very different, yet their love for their children and their shared husband brings them to an unusual and courageous alliance.”—St. Petersburg Times
 
“Told mainly from the wives' perspectives, the story hinges on readers' empathy with their unusual predicament….Moran's debut…will intrigue historical fiction fans and provide plenty of discussion points for book clubs.”—Library Journal
 
“Takes the bare outline of the legal case against Henry Oades and spins it into a heartbreaking story of the two women who love him.”—Herald-Tribune, Sarasota
 
“Moran’s debut is simply wonderful. She is firmly at home writing suspense-filled scenes, whether they take place among Maori captives or in a California courthouse. She also writes convincingly about the close friendships between women. The bond between women forms the core of this novel—a page-turner that readers will mourn finishing.”—Romantic Times, Top Pick!
 
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Product Details

  • Series: Random House Reader's Circle
  • Paperback: 367 pages
  • Publisher: Ballantine Books (February 9, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 034551095X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0345510952
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 9.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (97 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #169,104 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alayne VINE VOICE on February 9, 2010
Format: Paperback
Every so often an author's debut published work speaks volumes about their writing talent. The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran is one of these examples. Full of maturity, and literary talent, Moran's novel is full-blooded and bountiful, with a beautiful story and characters that are authentic and tangible. Maybe this is the result of Moran basing the book on a true story, but I tend to think it's because she's a talented writer.

Set in the 1890s, The Wives of Henry Oades tells the story of the first bigamy case in the United States. Henry Oades, his wife Margaret, and their children move to New Zealand when Henry is offered a prestigious accounting job. One evening after work Henry returns to their rural home to find it nothing but smoldering ashes with the skeleton of a woman inside. Destitute and shattered, Henry searches for his family for years before leaving New Zealand under the belief that the body in his house was in wife, and that his children are dead, having been kidnapped by the native Maori.

Six years later, Henry is living in Berkeley, California, a dairy farmer who has re-married a young pregnant widower, Nancy. When Nancy opens the door one day and finds Margaret and her children on the porch the lives of the Oades' wives and Henry are forever changed. Subject to persecution and abuse, Henry refuses to leave either wife or abandon any of his children.

Heartbreaking at times, we travel with the Oades family when they embark for New Zealand in the hopes of prosperity. We suffer with Henry while he searches helplessly for his family, and we feel his heartbreak when he finally believes them slain. We weep for Margaret and her children, forced into slavery for the Maori tribe who kidnapped them.
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Although most reviewers appear to believe The Wives of Henry Oades is based on a true story, the author says in the `Reader's Guide' section of my copy of the novel that she now entertains the possibility that the case, although it was reported in the New York Times and even found its way into several legal texts, may have been nothing more than a hoax on the part of a California newspaper to illustrate a legal loophole that would have permitted bigamy. Whether the idea for this book came from an actual incident or not, it is was certainly the seed from which sprang a fine novel, a real page-turner.

That said, I have given the book four stars, not five.

Why? Johanna Moran painted a splendid and outstanding picture of Margaret, wife #1. She also did a good job with Nancy, wife #2. And in the beginning she drew us into Henry's mind and his despair when his family disappears and he believes Margaret has burned to death. I felt his pain. He does not know for a fact, however, that his children are dead when he leaves New Zealand and I confess that although I was still with him, I faulted him for leaving that country. Years pass and Henry marries Nancy, a very young widow expecting a child. Understandable.

However, when Margaret escapes six years of horror and is finally reunited with Henry, he shows very little sympathy and warmth toward the wife he so dearly loved prior to her ordeal. Yes, he provides for her and even suffers the injustice of the legal system and the scorn of his neighbors, but the author never allows us to view the situation from Henry's point of view after Margaret and the children find him years later.
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Format: Paperback
In 1890, Henry Oades decides to take his family to New Zealand. He has been offered a job there - a grand opportunity - and it is only for two years. In New Zealand, a local Maori tribe seeking revenge for their treatment by the settlers, kidnaps Margaret Oades and her children. Henry searches relentlessly for his family without success. Grief stricken, he moves to San Francisco where eventually he marries a young widow named Nancy.

Back in New Zealand, Margaret and her surviving children eventually find their way to freedom. Once Margaret discovers that Henry is in America, she is determined to rejoin him. Some months later, Margaret and the children arrive on his doorstep where they meet Nancy.

I enjoyed this debut novel. It is difficult not to feel empathy for Henry, Margaret and Nancy. Henry moves on to a new life, believing that Margaret and their children are dead. Margaret has endured slavery fortified by her love for Henry. Nancy meets and becomes attached to Henry. Ms Moran does a fine job of bringing these characters and the challenges they face to life. Both Nancy and Margaret see Henry as their own rightful, lawful husband.

This story is based on a court case the author read about. In the novel the family eventually forges its own balance. I wonder how the story behind the court case really ended.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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Format: Paperback Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Johanna Moran's recently released debut historical novel, The Wives of Henry Oades is sure to shoot right to the top of the bestseller lists and most book club discussion groups. This breathtaking and riveting page turner is a story based on a true-to-life actual legal event that the author's father studied in law school and held Johanna Moran so captivated she had to write the tale.

This is the incredible story of Henry Oades, an English man who attains a two year temporary job as an accountant on the coast of New Zealand. Moving his wife and four kids to a new country, they immediately settle in nicely creating a new life with a steady income for Henry. Soon after a local Maori tribe uprising brings tragedy and trauma to the Oades family as Henry's wife Margaret and all four children are kidnapped and their home torched while Henry is away. Arriving home, devastated, and at a loss as to what could have happened, the locals soon inform Henry that these kidnappings have happened before and are usually done out of revenge for an injustice done against the Maori.

Rousing a posse and search team to help him find his family, Henry is again met with another crisis as he is hurt during the search, left in a coma and laid up for a month. The trail becomes cold and hope of finding his wife and children become slim but Henry pursues and spends the next year searching, never giving up hope. After three years pass, Henry decides to declare his loved ones dead, and sets sail for America to start a new life as a cattle rancher in California. Putting his painful past behind him, he soon inherits the ranch and takes a new bride, Nancy, the second Mrs. Oades.
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