David Ebershoff - The 19th Wife

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Oh, Polygamy!

May 28, 2008 (Updated May 28, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:I have never read any better historical fiction

Cons:His modern-day characters and their story were weak in comparison with the historical stuff.

The Bottom Line: It's a great read, and you should definitely check it out if you have any interest in these folks. You learn everything!


Oh, Polygamy! I LOVE IT! They are so dirty and sexy out there in the desert all for their afterlife! I’m a HUGE “Big Love” fan and watch all of the specials that Oprah and Ellen have with plural marriage practicioners…it fascinates me…any odd religious ritual or practice just captivate me…so when this advanced copy came into the store I grabbed and devoured it.

And it’s so good! Well, let me rephrase that – parts of it are sooo good. You have to read this if you have any interest in Mormons and Latter-Day Saints and any of that mess. It is SWOLLEN with information about their history and beliefs. Here’s what’s up…

The book starts with a murder. A polygamist in Utah has been shot and his 19th wife has been arrested for the murder. The son of these two people, Jordan, the narrator of the book, is living in California, having made a separate life of his own after they dropped him off on the side of a highway when he was 14. He had been caught holding his sister’s hand, and we all know how little the elders want young boys sniffing around young girls out in Mormon-ville – sister or not, he was of a troublesome age and it was time for him to go. He hasn’t seen his parents in six years, but at the news that his mother is in the state penitentiary, he knows he has to go back and help her in some way.

This story line gives us the modern-day view of what Mormons do, and believe and practice. As Jordan tries to figure out who actually murdered his polygamist father, we get glimpses of people still living the polygamist lifestyle, and Latter-Day Saints who have left that part of their history in the desert, yet still tried to follow the teaching of Joseph Smith. We also see how other people look at these people with the characters he creates. And all of it is fascinating.

Then we have the other story line. This one goes into the past – from the first days of the Mormon Church. Eberhoff has pages and pages of diaries and notes (fictional, of course, but based on fact) from Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young who was an apostate who asked for a divorce and then traveled America speaking against polygamy until it was made illegal.

There are other diary excerpts throughout the book, like that of Ann Eliza’s father when he took a trip to England to bring converts over to America, or letters from Ann Eliza’a brother, Gilbert – all of these people actually existed and Ann Eliza did write two books, which the author used as information for his book.

All of these things braid together (the cover has the back of a Mormon woman with a large braid, very fitting, I think) into a fantastic book. I learned so much about the Mormon church and the separation of the LDS from it. The historical parts of this book were so well-written. I couldn’t put this book down.

My problems came with the modern-day Jordan trying to solve his father’s murder. That story was poorly told, the characters were not just gay, but SUPER GAY, everything was really convenient and fell into place way too simply. I felt like the writer could create modern characters well enough, but dialogue and plot were pretty lame. But the historical parts of the novel were fantastic…I couldn’t get enough and was sad when the book was over.




Recommend this product? Yes

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