Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Review: The 19th Wife

When The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff first came out and I started seeing reviews of it, I really wanted to read it - I just knew I would enjoy it. So I finally got around to it this weekend and I was right. This was a fascinating book. Told via a first person narrative, memoir and historical documents (all fictional, but based on real documents and people), it is the story of polygamy's origins and modern incarnation.

The first story is about Ann Eliza Young, a wife of Brigham Young, the prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Flouting everything she has ever known, she leaves him and embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. The second narrative is the 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, reenters "the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death, and hopefully set his mother free."

I have not read much about polygamy (nor do I watch Big Love), so this was my first lengthy introduction to the subject. I am not a Mormon, but I thought that Ebershoff did a good job of balancing the facts of the role the church played in polygamy's history and the modern church's take on the subject (in a nutshell: No polygamy). I also appreciated his handling of the way that faith can play an important part of a person's life, even when the church is not. It is the history and the narrative that takes precedence here, though, not religion.

The 19th Wife is not a perfect book - it dragged at times, especially during the "historical documents," and there were moments where I wish Ebershoff had focused on one story or the other, rather than cutting between the two - but its a powerful one, and one that I had a hard time putting down. I highly recommend this book.

Buy The 19th Wife: A Novel on Amazon.
Visit the Author's website.

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