Governor General’s Literary Awards

Five Wives by Joan Thomas

Five Wives

By Joan Thomas

Harper Avenue/HarperCollins Publishers; distributed by the publisher

Synopsis

In 1956, a small group of evangelical Christian missionaries and their families journeyed to the Ecuadorian rainforest with the intent to convert the Waorani, a people who had never had contact with the outside world. The plan was known as Operation Auca. After spending days dropping gifts from an aircraft, the five men in the party rashly entered the “intangible zone.” They were all killed, leaving their wives and children to fend for themselves.

Five Wives is a fictionalized account of the real-life women who were left behind and their struggles—with grief, with doubt, and with each other—as they continued to pursue their evangelical mission in the face of the explosion of fame that followed their husbands’ deaths.

Five Wives is a riveting, often wrenching story of evangelism and its legacy, teeming with atmosphere and compelling characters and rich in emotional impact.

“In Five Wives, Thomas delivers a compelling and powerful story about an encounter that alters the lives of those involved for generations. Set in a world where Indigenous peoples, missionaries and the forces of global capitalism collide, Thomas’s tale provides a nuanced examination of Operation Auca—a historical event that took place in Ecuador in 1956. This book raises important questions about religious fervour, autonomy and legacies of violence. Ambitiously conceived and beautifully written, this book is a masterful achievement.”

Peer assessment committee: Aislinn Hunter, Wayne Johnston, Saleema Nawaz

Joan Thomas
Joan Thomas
Photo: Bruce Thomas Barr

Biography: Joan Thomas

Joan Thomas is the author of four novels: Five Wives, The Opening Sky, Curiosity, and Reading by Lightning. Her work has won the Amazon First Novel Award, a Commonwealth Writers’ Prize and the McNally Robinson Prize. Additionally, it has been nominated for the Giller Prize, the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and a previous Governor General’s Literary Award. In 2014, Thomas was the recipient of the Writers’ Trust Engel/Findley Prize for a writer in mid-career. She lives in Winnipeg, Manitoba.

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