The 19th Wife


I was on a mission to find Cutting for Stone by Abraham Verghese at the recommendation of Elisabeth of Babbette's Book Blog right before vacation. It ended up being on the "Buy 2 get 1 free" table, so of course I picked out a couple more. And I stumbled upon David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife. It was one of the most intriguing books I've read in a long time. *One note here - I've read only a little about these belief systems and have only a small understanding. If you are a Morman, or a member of the Church of Latter-Day Saints, I ask for your patience and kindness if I write something here that you may or may not believe to be true.* One thing I especially enjoyed is the huge amount of historical information that the author managed to cram into a work of fiction, including what seems like a full history of how the Morman religion was founded and the events that shaped it's beliefs, movements and geography. I did a little research while reading the book and found everything I researched to be true and confirmed through historical documents.

Whew - that was a lot of technical stuff. Let's get the nitty-gritty. This book is one of those crazy ones (I call them crazy, there may be a technical term out there somewhere) where there are two different story lines. One follows Ann Eliza Young in the late eighteen hundreds, the so-called 19th wife, through her birth, marriage and divorce of Brigham Young, leader of the Morman Church. The other follows Jordan Scott in modern times, an outcast of his fundamentalist Morman sect. The two stories run parallel, especially as you read more of Jordan's story. He's been abandoned by his family, and his religion, but has created a new life for himself when he discovers his mother has been charged with the murder of his father. The connection here is that his family are polygamists, and his mother is his father's nineteenth wife. He thinks his mother has been framed, so he sets out to find his father's true killer. To do this, he has to return to his hometown and to the bureaucracy and beliefs that ostracized him.

Ann Eliza Young's story is so much of the same. She has been ostracized because of her divorce from the prophet. And she endeavors to show the truth about polygamy.

I find it extremely difficult to describe the complexity and richness of Ann Eliza's story, the description of her family's conversion to Mormonism and their eventual belief in polygamy and the events that led to her marriage and divorce to Brigham Young. The historical information alone is amazing. And the writing allows the reader to experience just a small portion of the emotion, and even contradictory motives of both Ann Eliza and her enemies.

If I have two negative thoughts about this book and they both stem from Jordan's story. I think the author wanted so badly to portray the youth of his characters, that he did them a disservice. Their story, dialogue and emotion is not strong enough. Superficial, even. Secondly, the announcement of Jordan of his homosexuality, and the introduction of a relationship to another man is unnecessary. Particularly when his homosexuality isn't the reason for his excommunication from his church. Compared to Ann Eliza's story, the development of Jordan's is weak, but no less important.

I completely understand the influence of a dynamic leader, so while I disagree with the belief systems portrayed in the book, but after reading this one I am certainly more understanding of those who choose the Morman religion, and even of those who choose polygamy. And my sympathy is strong for those who have been manipulated, excommunicated or abandoned.

I highly recommend The 19th Wife.

On a side note - Ann Eliza Young wrote a book called Wife No. 1. It can be downloaded from David Ebershoff's website.

1 comment:

  1. This one has been on my TBR pile since I read Shattered Dreams last year & loved it. Thanks for keeping it on my radar. And, I can't wait to hear what you think of Cutting for Stone!


Thank you so much for visiting! Please leave a link to your blog so I can visit you, too!