Five Wives

Based on shocking real-life events, Joan Thomas' novel set in the rainforest of Ecuador follows five women left behind when their missionary husbands are killed.

Joan Thomas

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 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 the 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. (From HarperAvenue)

Five Wives won the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction.

Joan Thomas is the author of three previous novels. Her novel The Opening Sky was a finalist for the Governor General's Literary Award for fiction in 2014.

From the book

The wives spent the evening putting the story together. Kids finally asleep, so the women could talk uninterrupted in the lounge, mugs of cocoa cooling on the floor beside their chairs. They were hoping for photographs soon, but in the meantime they had the letters the pilot had carried out on his supply runs, and the journals the doctor brought them at the end. Everything scrawled in pencil, but the women were good at deciphering their husbands' handwriting and also at reading between the lines; it was amazing what they were able to piece together.

The site where the men set up camp was a white sand beach, a sandbar really, because the river was so low just then. An open and airy vestibule to the rainforest, dotted with palms; imagine the grounds of a swanky tropical hotel. At its edge grew a giant ironwood tree, perfect for a tree house, and the men built on one of the massive limbs. They'd prefabbed the scrap-lumber floors and walls and flown them in, strapped to the undercarriage of the small yellow plane. The beach was just long enough to serve as an airstrip. Eventually the pilot was confident in his landings, but the sand was very soft and for takeoffs he counted on a little extra lift from the Lord.

From Five Wives by Joan Thomas ©2019. Published by HarperAvenue.

Interviews with Joan Thomas

Winnipeg novelist Joan Thomas on Five Wives, which won this year's Governor General's Literary Award for English-language fiction.


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?