Tuesday, July 28, 2009

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff
trade paperback, 525 pages
Random House, June 2009
ISBN-13: 9780812974157
historical fiction/mystery
Very Highly Recommended

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.
My Thoughts:

The 19th Wife follows two parallel stories that deal with polygamy. One involves one of Brigham Young's wives, Ann Eliza, while the other is a modern day murder mystery set in a polygamous community in Utah. Ebershoff does a commendable job switching voices between a nineteenth-century Mormon wife (and others) and a contemporary gay young man who has been excommunicated from the church. He also includes an impressive bibliography in his notes, which I always appreciate. You can tell that he has done his research and is writing his novel from a place of knowledge. Normally I'm not a great fan of historical fiction because you can often tell the author has not done any research, but this was not the case with Ebershoff at all. At first I thought the modern mystery would be the more interesting story, but soon I was actually more interested in the historical storyline. There is a tie in concerning faith and that every religion claims it is the only way. "Faith....is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain."

The contemporary mystery does have some strong language and adult situations, so be forewarned if that bothers you then this isn't the novel for you. I really appreciated the Random House readers circle questions and answers in my trade paperback copy. If you enjoyed Jon Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven, a nonfiction book concerning modern polygamy, then you will likely appreciate The 19th Wife. Be sure to check out David Ebershoff's website.
Very Highly Recommended

I won this book in a give away that I entered because I wanted to read the book.


In the one year since I renounced my Mormon faith, and set out to tell the nation the truth about American polygamy, many people have wondered why I ever agreed to become a plural wife. Everyone I meet, whether farmer, miner, railman, professor, cleric, or the long-faced Senator, and most especially the wives of these-everyone wants to know why I would submit to a marital practice so filled with subjugation and sorrow. When I tell them my father has five wives, and I was raised to believe plural marriage is the will of God, these sincere people often ask, But Mrs. Young - how could you believe such a claim?
Faith, I tell them, is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain. opening

I write not for sensation, but for Truth. I leave judgment to the hearts of my good Readers everywhere. I am but one, yet to this day countless others lead lives even more destitute and enslaved than mine ever was. Perhaps my story is the exception because I escaped, at great risk, polygamy's conjugal chains; and that my husband is the Mormon Church's Prophet and Leader, Brigham Young, and I am his 19th, and final, wife.
Sincerely Yours,
Ann Eliza Young
Summer 1874 pg. 6

According to the St. George Register, on a clear night last June, at some time between eleven and half-past, my mom-who isn't anything like this-tiptoed down to the basement of the house I grew up in with a Golden Boy .22 in her hands. At the foot of the stairs she knocked on the door to my dad's den. From inside he called who is it? She answered me, BeckyLyn. He said-or must've said-come in. What happened next? Nearly everyone in southwest Utah can tell you. She nailed an ace shot and blew his heart clean from his chest. pg. 7

He was a religious con man, a higher-up in a church of lies, the kind of schemer who goes around saying God meant for man to have many women and children and they shall be judged on how they obey. pg. 8

The paper says she didn't resist. Tell me about it. She didn't resist when her husband married her fifteen-year-old niece. She didn't resist when the Prophet told her to throw me out. "No point in making a fuss"-she used to say that all the time. For years she was obedient, believing it part of her salvation. pg.9

I'm just a guy who got totally screwed when he was fourteen and by all odds should be in jail or dead or both but actually is managing just fine. pg. 14

After I was kicked out (they call it excommunicated, but whatever), I honestly thought I'd never see her again, and I have to say I didn't really care. I was amd, starting with God, then the Prophet, but my mom was next on the list. I'm still mad at him - God I mean - because my mom tossed me on the highway at tom a.m. in his name.. Trust me: that can mess you up. pg. 18

I should probably make it clear why the Firsts aren't Mormon.... they hate the Prophet almost as much as I do. They call him a heretic, a blasphemer, and a whole bunch of other things like rapist, pedophile, and tax cheat. The point of contention between the Firsts and the Mormons - you probably already figured this out - is polygamy. pg. 33

She concludes her long assessment by writing, "In the end, I suppose my greatest disappointment has been in realizing my father, like Joseph and Bringham before him, tried to shroud his passions in the mantle of religion. He used God to defend his adultery. I have yet to hear him acknowledge his lies." pg. 213

1 comment:

Anna said...

I really enjoyed this one, too. I was fascinated by Ann Eliza's story from the beginning, and I thought it was more interesting than the modern-day story.

Diary of an Eccentric