by Simon Choa-Johnston
Local author Simon Choa-Johnston has released a follow-up to his best-selling 2016 novel, The House of Wives. House of Daughters, a stand-alone sequel, brings to life the sights and sounds of 1920s Hong Kong. Like the first book in this planned trilogy, the novel is inspired by Choa-Johnston’s ancestors.
Pearl Belilios, a wealthy Jewish-Chinese matriarch, is convinced that a series of fatal events are signs of a family curse, brought on by her absent husband’s involvement in the lucrative opium trade. Distraught, yet single-minded, Pearl is determined to trick the curse and protect her grand-children, whom she dotes on with mouth-watering meals and larger-than-life story-telling sessions. The question is, how far will Pearl go to fend off the curse, as age and infirmity take hold.
Pearl’s daughter, Leah Felicie, has married into another prominent Hong Kong family, the Choas. The proud and elegant woman is preoccupied with her five children, playing mah-jong, and decorating her mansion with expensive Western and Chinese furnishings. Slowly, it becomes apparent that the family’s opulent lifestyle comes at a high price.
Leah Felicie’s daughter, and Pearl’s favourite grand-daughter, Rachel, is bright, beautiful, and sought after by multiple suitors, including one who will stop at nothing to get what he wants.
Choa-Johnston, Artistic Director Emeritus of Gateway Theatre, travelled the world to research the novel. It evokes the richness of his ancestors’ Jewish and Chinese traditions — from the mouth-watering festive meals of Shabbat, to Lunar New Year’s parties with fireworks and orchestras.
As well as the Belilios’ wealthy existence, the lives of everyday people in the bustling city are depicted. Patient rickshaw drivers stand at the ready, servants cater to employers’ whims, and vendors hawk live crabs in the markets. Readers can almost hear the clang of the stock market bell, and American jazz wafting into the streets.
The 1920s Hong Kong setting, together with the intrigues of the Belilios clan, make for a fast-paced, heady mix, made all the more potent thanks to Choa-Johnston’s painstaking research. The author will present a free slide show on his fascinating research on March 5 at the Richmond Public Library. To sign up, visit www.yourlibrary.ca/events-calendar or call 604.231.6413.