The Wives of Henry Oades: A Novel (Random House Reader's Circle)
An English accountant and his two wives are the subject of this intriguing and evocative debut novel based on a real-life 19th-century California bigamy case. A loving husband and attentive father, Henry Oades assures his wife, Margaret, that his posting to New Zealand will be temporary and the family makes the difficult journey. But during a Maori uprising, Margaret and her four children are kidnapped and the Oades's house is torched. Convinced his family is dead, Henry relocates to California and marries Nancy, a sad 20-year-old pregnant widow. When Margaret and the children escape, eventually making their way to California and Henry's doorstep, he does the decent thing by being a husband to both wives and father to all their offspring, a situation deemed indecent by the Berkeley Daughters of Decency. Moran presents Henry's story as if making a case in court, facts methodically revealed with just enough detail for the reader to form an independent opinion. But it's Margaret surviving the wilderness, Nancy overcoming grief and the two women bonding that give the book its heart and should make this a book group winner.
Author Johanna Moran based her novel on an old newspaper article. But that article turned out to be a hoax:
History pulls a fast one on author
By Matt Nippert
What's interesting here is the whole literary process. A Florida-based author reads one old newspaper article and decides she's qualified to write about the Maori culture of New Zealand in detail. She depicts the Maori as the worst kind of savages--no different from a dime novel's depiction of Indians a century ago.
Worse, a New Zealand publisher put out the novel this year. Apparently, no one thought it was a problem to stereotype the Maori as inhuman monsters in 2010.
I'd be surprised, but this is the same attitude behind such works as Apocalypto, Comanche Moon, and Indiana Jones and the Kingdom of the Crystal Skull. Indigenous people may be civilized now--since we've introduced them to Christ, clothing, and Coca-Cola--but they used to be bloodcurdling demons from a horror movie. Or so the average person thinks.
For more on the Maori, see Maori War Chant in Invictus and "Go Native" at the Visionary Village. For more on Native-themed books, see The Best Indian Books.