Book Concierge's Reviews > The Wives of Henry Oades

The Wives of Henry Oades by Johanna Moran
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Jan 22, 2016

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bookshelves: 19th-century, california, concierge, historical-fiction, library, new-zealand, social-commentary, strong-women
Read in October, 2010


In 1890 Henry Oades takes his wife, Margaret, and children to new Zealand when he is offered a work opportunity that is too good to pass up. Everything is fine for a while, but an uprising of the Maori natives results in his wife and children being kidnapped and his home burned. Despite efforts to find them, they are eventually presumed dead, and Henry leaves New Zealand for America. There he settles near Berkeley California and becomes a successful dairy farmer. On a trip to town he witnesses a home fire - an event brings back memories of the loss of his family. He later visits the widow, Nancy, to offer his condolences and ensure her that she will eventually recover. Eventually he and Nancy marry and begin life together on the farm.

Meanwhile, six years have passed since Margaret and the children were captured. They have been enslaved in a Maori settlement. When smallpox strikes the village, they are expelled from the compound and left to their own devices. The group makes its way back towards Wellington, only to discover that Henry has left New Zealand. Margaret writes to Henry but months pass with no response. There is nothing to do but set sail for America, and eventually they arrive in Berkeley just a few months after Henry has married Nancy.

Henry and Nancy are stunned, but welcome the ragtag group into their home. The townspeople, however, are not so compassionate; they react with disgust that a bigamist is in their midst.

The novel is based on a case the author's father discovered in the legal archives. It is well paced and kept me reading, but I'm left somewhat dissatisfied. I'm not sure I understand the characters and their motives and reactions to these events. Everyone seems to be just “not quite” engaged, and as a result, I'm left wanting more. I do think it would be great for book groups as it is bound to engender a lot of discussion.

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