Title: The 19th Wife
Author: David Ebershoff
Release Date: August 5, 2008
Challenge: Fall Into Reading 2008
Genre: Contemporary Fiction, Historical Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
From the dust jacket:
It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.
Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.
And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.
With shows like HBO’s Big Love and books like Jon Krakauer’s Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, fundamental Mormonism (not to be confused with regular Mormonism, LDS) has been capturing the attention of more and more people over the past few years. David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife capitalizes on this wave, telling the story of the origin of plural wives within the Mormon church through the eyes of Ann Eliza Young. He mirrors that story with the modern day tale of a boy searching for answers when his mother is accused of killing his father.
As is often the issue when two stories are juxtaposed like this, one is infinitely more interesting than the other. Jordan’s search for the truth behind his father’s murder and his return to the polygamous sect where he was raised is captivating. The way Ebershoff paints the plight of these modern women living in polygamous marriages is horrifying. I also appreciated Jordan’s argument – it is sometimes difficult to reconcile respect for religious belief when presented with an issue such as this. But when innocent children are introduced into the mix, it becomes our concern. I found this storyline utterly captivating and was hooked from beginning to end.
The problem came with Ann Eliza Young’s story. I found it very interesting in the beginning, but as the novel progressed, the story really dragged. I was racing through her story in order to get back to Jordan’s. What happened to Ann Eliza was very interesting, don’t get me wrong, but in Ebershoff’s effort to give equal weight to the two stories, he inadvertantly stretched Ann Eliza’s too far.
The 19th Wife is told through different eyes; Jordan’s, Ann Eliza’s, Brigham Young’s, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s, and Kelly’s, a girl at BYU (Brigham Young University) who is completing a master’s thesis on polygamy. The technique is effective and keeps the reader interesting, but like I said earlier, less time with Ann Eliza would have been appreciated.
If you are interested in the subject of Mormon history or polygamy, The 19th Wife is definitely a book to read. Though everything is fictionalized, it is based on history. The subject is fascinating and heartbreaking at the same time – it is horrible to think that there are women in this plight in this day and age. I’m glad that public awareness about the issue has risen.
Thank you to Random House for sending me this book to review.