The winner of The 19th Wife is comment #47, Rebecca Cox! Congratulations, Rebecca! I’ll email you to get your mailing address. Thank you all for your great comments!
The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is an amazing story of polygamy in the 19th century in the LDS church, as well as a modern day murder mystery on a compound of fundamentalist LDS who practice plural marriage. Ebershoff is so deft at weaving fact and fiction that the lines blur and I was constantly wondering where fact ended and Ebershoff’s imagination began.
While there’s two stories going on in The 19th Wife, they compliment each other well. The bulk of the novel is a fictionalized version of Ann Eliza Young’s account of her marriage to Brigham Young, including how her mother came to be a part of the Latter-day Saints, Ann Eliza’s childhood, the history of the church, and how she eventually apostasized from the Latter-day Saints and went on a crusade to eliminate polygamy. Ann Eliza really did write an autobiography entitled Wife No. 19, and it is on this that Ebershoff bases his fictional autobiography.
I think Ebershoff may have missed his calling as a history teacher. He has a gift of telling history like a story, which is how I think the best history teachers teach. To this day, I remember stories one of my history teachers used to tell, and where these stories would be dry and dull with their mere facts, they come alive and become something I can remember more than 10 years later. In fact, it is because of one of my history teacher’s stories, the story of Archduke Ferdinand of Austria being assassinated, that I want to name my first daughter Sophia.
The second story in The 19th Wife is a modern day murder mystery. We find that Jordan’s mother is accused of killing her husband…who had scads of other wives, the number of which even Jordan’s mother isn’t sure. Jordan’s mother has been arrested and charged with the murder of her husband, but when she pleads with Jordan to believe that she’s innocent, he believes her because he knows she still believes in the religion, so why would she kill her husband? He sets out to help prove her innocence, because even though she abandoned him five years ago at age 16 on the side of the highway, he still loves her.
What works so well is the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints makes you understand why Mormon fundamentalists hold on with such tenacity to plural marriage. When Joseph Smith introduced the idea of plural marriage to the Latter-day Saints, he said that plural marriage was what God wanted, and to not do what God wanted would result in not getting their reward. Brigham Young kept up this mantra, telling people they were doing what God wanted. It was only when the United States started putting pressure on the LDS to end plural marriage that a decision was made in 1890 by the Mormon church to ban plural marriage.
A significant question this book tackles is why it’s okay for the United States to have laws against polygamy, when theoretically we allow people the freedom to do what they want. Ann Eliza Young has an excellent answer to why it is sometimes the responsibility of the government to step in.
This book, despite its 500+ pages, is a quick read. Is it a definitive history of Ann Eliza Young, Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, or the Church of Jesus Christ of Lattter-day Saints (Mormons)? No. Is it an excellent book, based on history but embellished and stretched and fictionalized? Absolutely. You obviously can’t use this book as a basis for your knowledge, but I’d be willing to bet it will encourage you to do your research to find out what is truth and what is fiction.
Rating: 90 out of 100
I’ll be going to see David Ebershoff when he comes to my area on June 2nd. I’ll be sure to tell you all about it!
I have one paperback copy of The 19th Wife to give away! How cool is David for providing this?! To enter, all you have to do is tell me who your favorite teacher in school was. If you want an extra entry, you can mention this giveaway on Twitter or Stumble this post, just come back and leave an extra comment leaving the link to your tweet or letting me know you stumbled this. This giveaway will be open through May 31st. Good luck!
Here’s a book trailer for The 19th Wife that is FANTASTIC. You know I don’t give my stamp of approval on book trailers easily, so please, watch this video.