Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Five Wives” as Want to Read:
Five Wives
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Five Wives

3.64  ·  Rating details ·  1,300 ratings  ·  225 reviews
In the tradition of The Poisonwood Bible and State of Wonder, a novel set in the rainforest of Ecuador about five women left behind when their missionary husbands are killed. Based on the shocking real-life events

In 1956, a small group of evangelical Christian missionaries and their families journeyed to the rainforest in Ecuador intending to convert the Waorani, a people
Paperback, 400 pages
Published September 3rd 2019 by HarperAvenue
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Five Wives, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Joan Thomas Sorry, I just noticed your question. Five Wives is available on Kindle on Are you writing from the US? It's not available there yet. …moreSorry, I just noticed your question. Five Wives is available on Kindle on Are you writing from the US? It's not available there yet. (less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.64  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,300 ratings  ·  225 reviews

Sort order
Start your review of Five Wives
Jul 25, 2020 rated it liked it
Shelves: can-con, 2020
They stand and sing with full hearts, “We rest on Thee, our Shield and our Defender!” The melody is beautiful and old. Finlandia. Five wonderful young men stood beside his dad’s plane and sang this hymn that fateful day in early 1956 when they flew into the camp on the Curaray River. Five who knew the terms of their mission. They knew, and still they went. “When passing through the gates of pearly splendour, Victors, we rest with Thee through endless days.”

Based on the true and tragic events kno
switterbug (Betsey)
Dec 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Operation Auca was a doomed 1956 mission undertaken by Evangelican missionaries in Ecuador. They tried to convert an isolated tribe of people who spoke an obscure language, and depended on succeeding through the grace and will of God. Joan Thomas’s alacrity with the primary facts builds a captivating story of the husbands, and especially the five wives. The wives were left stranded and widowed in the deep of the Ecuadorean rainforest. Without derision or deference, Thomas created fictional dialo ...more
Gail Amendt
Feb 23, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This is a book about the dark side of evangelical Christianity, something with which I am very familiar. I didn't grow up evangelical, but I grew up surrounded by evangelicals. I have even been the target of their missionary zeal. I was the wrong kind of Christian in their view, and my evangelical classmates set themselves to winning me over to the good side. I think that experience made this novel especially painful for me to read. Based on real historical events, it tells the tragic story of a ...more
Dec 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Reading about U.S. Christian evangelists for a secular individual feels like reading an anthropological study about an exotic tribe. What the evangelists deem to be courage and martyrdom can be easily interpreted as hubris and colonialism.

So it’s a credit to Joan Thomas that she is careful about taking a point of view. Her fictional book is based on fact: an evangelistic mission to the rainforest Ecuador to save the souls of a “savage” tribe called the Waorani. It is called Operation Auca and s
Oct 15, 2019 rated it liked it
The story and the writing were very good - but I had trouble with the individual characters and who was married to whom. The book really needs one of those pages with a family tree at the beginning. Also, I really struggle against the evangelical Christian missionary movement. I think they do so much more harm than good to peoples like those in this story.
Sep 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This was not an easy novel and it certainly wasn't escape reading but it's one of the most profound novels I've read in a very long time. We're introduced to slices of experience from a variety of people in different times and places but all centered on the 5 missionaries who were killed during their attempt to bring Christianity to people from a remote community in Ecuador. The author brilliantly shows the arrogance of the missionaries' zeal and how those who seek to civilize are the ones in ne ...more
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: canadian, 2019
Part way through the book, I heard that this had been nominated for a GG and I thought, “No wonder I’m not enjoying it.” It’s hardly the story of 5 wives dealing with the death of their missionary husbands because said husbands don’t die until page 240 and really it focusses on 2. A current-day storyline about a movie is thrown in to add to the mess. 2 stars because I finished it.
Nov 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
The destruction of the Amazon rainforest and the impact of that devastation on human life on earth have recently been in the news. Five Wives examines the devastating impact of missionary zeal on the people living in the Amazon.

The novel is based on Operation Auca, the mission of a group of American Christian evangelists in the mid-1950s. Their aim was to convert the Waorani, an isolated Indigenous people living in Ecuadorian Amazonia. Five male missionaries decided to make contact and were kil
glenn boyes
Jan 01, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The setting of this book was part of the mega-narrative of my growing up in a church that was "missionary" focused. Set in the mid-1950s, it is a novel based on the true story (written up later in LIFE magazine) of a small group of American missionaries and their families into the rainforest of Ecuador to convert a people who had never had contact with the outside world. The 5 male missionaries were killed in the endeavor, leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves and their struggl ...more
Feb 11, 2020 rated it did not like it
This sounded so interesting and promising but uugghhhhhhhh it was a chore that I gave up on. Maybe it gets better but I couldn't invest any more time or energy. The initial character development was boring and hard to keep straight, likely because it was so uninteresting and the writing felt so flat that I didn't care enough to try. ...more
Mar 05, 2020 rated it really liked it
Joan Thomas’s GG-award winning fourth novel, based on actual events, is mainly set in the 1950s in Ecuador. In 1956, a group of American missionaries set their sights on a group of indigenous people living in the Ecuadorian rainforest with the intention of converting them to Christianity. To this point, the Waorani’s exposure to the outside world was virtually nil. Little was known about them or their way of life other than their itinerant practices and their tendency to defend themselves feroci ...more
Craig Stephen
Sep 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Required reading for those who grew up evangelical

The author skillfully and creatively combines historical fiction of events in the 1950s with an imaginative account what took place in the lives of those affected many years later. The structure, characters, narratives, and quality writing are highly polished. More important to me was the connection to personal experience growing up in the evangelical sub-culture. Ms. Thomas knows and understands that world and its people in a way that few write
Mary Burbidge
Feb 18, 2020 rated it really liked it
Five Wives is a slightly fictionalized account of a 1956 missionary expedition to convert the Auca people of Ecuador. Nate Saint, Jim Elliot, Peter Fleming, Ed McCully, and Roger Youderian, the 5 missionaries sent by the Plymouth Brethren, were killed by the Auca - actually called Waorani - on January 8, 1956. They left their wives and children in the missionary base at Shell Mera. The 5 wives were Marj Saint, Elizabeth (Betty) Elliot, Olive Fleming, Marilou McCully and Barbara Youderian. These ...more
Heather Fineisen
Aug 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
In the 1950's, a group of North American missionaries go to the forests of Ecuador to find a group of Indians to convert. Five of the men are killed when trying to make contact. This is the story of the wives, how they got there and what happened after. Based on true events peppered with imagine, the five women are brought to life. Lush location descriptions.. thoughtful debates on God and beliefs. Well researched. An author I'd like to read more of.

Copy provided by the publisher and NetGalley
Barbara Scott
Jan 06, 2020 rated it liked it
I cannot say I enjoyed this novel. I wanted to because it was about Ecuador, my home now, and because it was written by a fellow Canadian who won the Governor General’s literary award for fiction this year. However it did not hold my attention. I did not feel I got to know the characters well enough to care about them. I felt some distaste for the strong female evangelist, Rachel Saint, and a touch of appreciation for some of the wives, but not enough. They did not come off the page. Nor did the ...more
Jan 10, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Maybe 4 and 1/2, I had a little trouble remembering some characters and I would have liked more time with some of the characters. That said, the story is morally nuanced and fascinating, and Thomas does not make the mistake of trying to articulate the points of view held by the Indigenous people whom western culture has tried so hard to "save." Instead, she focuses on the motivations and doubts of a group of missionaries who tried to break the spirits of Indigenous people because they thought it ...more
Mary Lins
Nov 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: complete
“Five Wives”, by Joan Thomas, is based on a true story of five missionary families in Ecuador in the 1950s. I don’t want to reveal any more of the plot because it’s one of those stories that is best experienced as it unfolds, and Joan Thomas’ writing skills are amazing at revealing the horrific tale. I consumed this riveting novel in great big gulps.

I suspect that how an individual reader feels about proselytizing missionaries (pro or con), and the ethics of trying to infiltrate “uncontacted” in
Apr 05, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I grew up in a family that counted the missionaries of Operation Auca as martyrs and "saints" (pun intended). We had Elizabeth Elliot's book on our shelves. Somehow I think this fictional account is a truer account of what happened than anything written by the participants. It's a good read, albeit a little hard to follow in the time and generation shifts. ...more
Sep 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great characters with lots and lots of layers. A jungle setting so wonderfully immersive that when you lift your eyes from the book pages you are astonished that you are in your own house. Religious zealots who think everyone should be like them. And all based on a true story. What’s not to love?
Nov 12, 2019 rated it liked it
I was drawn to this book by the recollection of the story of 5 missionaries killed in Ecuador and Elizabeth Elliot’s book “Through Gates of Splendour”. The characters were celebrities in Christian families ... but now looking at the damage created in the attempt of “saving the savage souls” has been disastrous. I understand what the author was trying to do and she’s a talented writer, but up until the end of the book it was very hard to keep track of the characters and really get to know most of ...more
Jan 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: top-10-2020
Five Wives retells the true story of five missionary families who meet tragedy in the 1950s while attempting to evangelize an isolated indigenous community in Ecuador. This book hits all the marks. It's a page-turner that never loses pace and never sacrifices depth or nuance for suspense. We dip into the minds of several diverse characters and somehow gain empathy for even those who might seem despicable. Thomas critiques with love. If you liked The Poisenwood Bible by Kingsolver you will find t ...more
Dec 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Spectacular novel about a group of missionary families in Ecuador - based on Operation Auca in which 5 American missionaries were killed by members of the Hauorani tribe. Thoughful, sensitively written, and provocative. A must.
Barbara Carter
Feb 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
I discovered this book quite accidently by an online search for a fiction read. Then I borrowed this eBook from the library. It’s the first book I’ve read by Joan Thomas, probably not the last.
What caught my attention is that the book is based on a true story. And that story intrigued me: Evangelical missionaries in the 1950s making contact with the Waorani people in the Ecuadorian rainforest. Five missionary men killed, five wives (hence the book title) and nine children left behind.
What drov
Nov 22, 2020 added it
Shelves: 2020reads, canlit
Read for book club #2. I was hesitant to read this because it was being compared to The Poisonwood Bible, which I hated (for the content, not the writing). But large chunks of this were quite fascinating and made up for having to read the actual missionary moments. Look, missionaries make me want to throw things.

But the best part was discovering that there was a women in my book club who had grown up in the same circles as the women in the book, and had even met some of them (the novel is based
Oct 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
This Winnipeg author writes a story based on actual event happening in 1950s. Taking place in Ecuador, the stories unfolds about missionaries and their relationship with the Auca people. The formal name was Operation Auca. This fiction tells the compelling story of this subject. At the beginning I had troubles with all the missionaries relationships but the story unfolds beautiful and in twines the actual events with fictionalized part. I appreciated the author notes in differentiating what part ...more
Enid Wray
Nov 05, 2019 rated it did not like it
Yes, Joan Thomas can write, and write beautifully. But sadly where this title is concerned, the publisher’s blurb says it all… “In the tradition of The Poisonwood Bible and State of Wonder” - and I would add Women Talking to this list along with a host of other books - this is a case of been there, done that, read that already… and enjoyed it more.

Something about this one just fell flat for me. Another case of pick up, put down, pick up, put down, repeat over and over again. Just not doing it fo
Neha Modi
Feb 23, 2021 rated it liked it
Five Wives is a story based on Operation Auca which began in September 1955. It was an attempt by five Evangelical Christian missionaries from the United States to bring Christianity to the Waorani or Huaorani people of the rain forest of Ecuador. The Huaorani, also known as Aucas, were an isolated tribe known for their violence, against both their own people and outsiders who entered their territory.
The missionaries began making regular flights over Huaorani settlements in September 1955, drop
Aug 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
I really enjoyed this book. We got a good sense of place, and while there were a lot of characters, I got a good sense of the principal ones. I don't know if we needed present day to look back on the past as I don't think it added any additional perspective or reflection. I say this from the perspective of the American characters. It was awful (if not surprising) seeing how much the work of the missionaries has devastated the lives of the Indigenous peoples they were ostensibly trying to "save". ...more
Lorrie Morales
Mar 20, 2020 rated it liked it
There are parts of the book that correspond to events from the movie - End of the Spear (2005) and it makes more sense after having seen the movie. One definitely needs some sort of context as to what was happening in the 1950's in terms of missionary work. Joan Thomas does attempt to capture the womens' perspectives in light of the factual events surrounding the story. ...more
Aug 11, 2020 rated it liked it
Perhaps I expected too much from this book as it came highly recommended by a few friends. Or perhaps I was in a bit of a rush to finish it as I had only borrowed the ebook for 7 days and may have even been listening to an audio book at the same time. Either way, the book didn't grab me and I just found it an ok read. I thought the parts where the author was describing the main characters living in Ecuador more engaging than the "current day" sections. And maybe just the idea of missionaries con ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Indians on Vacation
  • Reproduction
  • Small Game Hunting at the Local Coward Gun Club
  • The Student
  • Ridgerunner
  • The Innocents
  • The Company We Keep
  • Here the Dark: A Novella and Stories
  • Songs for the End of the World
  • Butter Honey Pig Bread
  • Watching You Without Me
  • From the Ashes: My Story of Being Métis, Homeless, and Finding My Way
  • Polar Vortex
  • How to Pronounce Knife
  • Dual Citizens
  • Five Little Indians
  • The Finder: A Novel
See similar books…
My fourth novel, Five Wives, is a fictional dive into an real event that astonished me. It recently won the 2019 Governor General's Award for Fiction.
My previous books have been nominated for the ScotiaBank Giller Prize, the Governor General's Award, and the IMPAC International Dublin Literary Award. I live in Winnipeg. You can visit me at

Related Articles

Kazuo Ishiguro insists he’s an optimist about technology.  “I'm not one of these people who thinks it's going to come and destroy us,” he...
390 likes · 37 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »