November 11, 2008

Review: The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife
by David Ebershoff

One night in the deserts of Utah, a man is shot to death in his room in the cellar. Standing accused of the crime is his 19th wife. Though long estranged from his parents Jordan Scott is sure that his mother couldn't have shot his father. His journey to uncover the truth will lead him back to the community that deserted him on the side of a highway while he was still an innocent boy.

Running parallel to this mystery is the story of the original 19th wife, Ann Eliza Young, the notorious wife that dared to leave Brigham Young, the Prophet and President of the Latter Day Saints more than a hundred years before.

Their stories are intertwined. The neglect and isolation of the polygamous family is what Ann Eliza fought so hard to eradicate but the fringe group that Jordan Scott's family is part of lives in defiance of the LDS Church's official ruling against polygamy. They believe celestial marriage to be part of the path to salvation as revealed by the founder of the LDS Church, Joseph Smith and maintained by its most influential Prophet, Brigham Young.

This is not the kind of book that you can rush through. There are many different components to it. Ebershoff did an excellent job of creating a very realistic fiction. All through my reading I wondered if the autobiography of Ann Eliza was her actual autobiography entitled Wife No. 19 published in 1875. There are several recreations of actual original sources from correspondence to wikipedia articles to personal diaries. Each succeeds in speaking with its own voice and style.

I can't help but wonder what Mormons think about this book. Ebershoff has chosen to follow the lead set in Ann Eliza's book in portraying Brigham Young from a very narrow point of view. He admits as much in the Author's Note and Acknowledgements section at the end, which I found just as compelling a read as the rest of the book. He points out that the Prophet is remembered as a very complex, multifaceted man known for many noteworthy accomplishments. But this book was not about Brigham Young but about the dramatic history of polygamy and its most outspoken opponent, Ann Eliza Young.

I want to thank TLC Book Tours and David Ebershoff for the opportunity to read and review The 19th Wife. It was a book on my wish list from the first moment I heard about it. If it is on your wish list (and it should be) I recommend you send yourself an early Christmas treat. It will not leave you disappointed.

Find out more about the book here.
Buy this book at Amazon.

Check out the rest of the book tour stops:
Maw Books
Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement
She Is Too Fond Of Books
Age 30 - A Year in Books
A High and Hidden Place
It’s All About Books
Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Books on the Brain
The Cottage Nest
B&B ex libris
The Tome Traveler
The Literate Housewife

And watch for the final tour stops tomorrow at Diary of an Eccentric and on Friday at Book Chase.


Anonymous said...

I really enjoyed this book, too, but from what I've read, most LDS members do not like it.

Anonymous said...

When I interviewed David I asked him what his response from the Mormon community has been like. He said that he has received many letters and emails and all of the have been positive, with the exception of just one. I've seen one review where a member of the LDS faith could not finish it, and another who thought it was difficult to read. I'm LDS and the review that you linked to, is a review from the LDS perspective. I liked it and I didn't like it. But recommend it.