The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is a story within a story. One part historical narrative. One part modern day polygamist murder mystery. LOL... I know how it sounds! In 1875 Ann Eliza Young, the infamous 19th Wife of the Mormon leader, Brigham Young embarked on a campaign to end the practice of polygamy within the Mormon Church. Sounds stuffy, but it's definitely not.
Throughout the book we learn the history of Ann Eliza's family and how polygamy effected them. From Joseph Smith's first revelation, through Ann Eliza's ex-communication and flight. Each story heard through the voices of it's characters. Memoirs, diary entry's, along with Mormon records give the reader a sense of who the people were, the places they lived and the struggles they faced.
Another story starts to unfold with Jordan Scott, a young gay man, who was expelled from his polygamist home in modern day Utah. His mother is accused of murdering her polygamist husband, she too being the 19th wife. It's up to Jordan to figure out what really happened that night, the differences between, "The Firsts" and the LDS church of today, and where he fits into the picture.
Both stories intertwine weaving a tale of power, religious fervor and hardship. What does Ann Eliza young have to do with Jordan Scott. You'll just have to read to find out!
This was a very powerful book, in my opinion. David Ebershoff is obviously a very good historian.
I liked the book, though I found it somewhat confusing. The stories were easy to separate and you always knew which part of the story you were following, whether it was Eliza's story or Jordan's. The confusion for me was in whether it was actual historical evidence Ebershoff was using or whether the records were fictional. Were these the actual diaries and memoirs and letters from the people in Ann Eliza's life or were they all made up. It was just really hard for me to distinguish the difference. I know it is a novel but how much is based on fact?
Regardless of whether those parts of the story were historically accurate or not, it certainly made for a very interesting read. I had not had much experience with Mormonism or their beliefs before reading this novel and it was very interesting. I knew they had been persecuted, and that polygamy was at one time a practice with them. I had no idea what the extent was.
The reader should be aware that there is a bit of language in this book, but it's not every other word, or very distracting from the story.
It was a very engaging book. A little on the long side at 544 pages, but definitely worth your time. The characters were appealing and their struggles, through not something we face everyday were easy to relate to.
Overall I would have to give this one 4 out of 5 apples from my book bag.