Last evening, Canadian Authors-Metro Vancouver hosted Simon Johnston. Known in the Vancouver area and across Canada as an award winning playwright and artistic director, he recently retired from the theatre to become a novelist.
Choa Johnston's first novel, The House of Wives, made the Globe and Mail bestseller list a week after being published in summer 2016. Now in its second printing, the book is also selling well in India and Hong Kong, where the story is set.
A truly fascinating aspect of this historical saga is its basis in the author's family history. A Sephardic Jewish ancestor made a fortune in Calcutta when the opium trade was at its height. His second marriage in Hong Kong became a family secret.
From childhood, Simon carried questions about his forbears. After his mother's death, among her ephemera, he found the beginnings of a compelling trail of clues. While researching this, he felt a strong impulse to tell the family saga as fiction, and had a hunch about how to make that work.
Simon Choa Johnston was a delightful presenter. The audience of Canadian Authors members and guests enjoyed every aspect of the talk, from his description of his research to his spontaneous forays into theatrical humour.
When I read this book last August, I blogged about it here.