Monday, December 24, 2012

Book Review: The 19th Wife

         The "19th Wife", by David Ebershoff, is a novel that alternates between the narrative of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, and Jordan Scott, a “lost boy” that was born to a 19th wife in a modern-day polygamous community. 
          Ann Eliza Young was famous for divorcing Brigham Young and then going on to crusade against polygamy. During her crusade, she wrote an autobiography of her life, titled "Wife No 19". In re-writing Ann Eliza Young’s story as a work of fiction, Ebershoff goes one step further by providing the narratives of others, including her family members and Brigham Young. Some of the narratives didn’t come across as authentic – they felt too clean, too self-aware for the rough-hewn pioneer characters they portrayed. Nevertheless, by including these alternative voices, the author created a more nuanced portrayal of 19th-century polygamy.
          The other part of the novel is comprised of the story of Jordan Scott, a lost boy who was kicked out of his polygamous community at the age of fourteen. After fleeing Utah, he returns home when his mother is arrested for his father’s murder. Believing his mother to be innocent, Jordan sets out to uncover the truth. The story that unfolds is a complex narrative of modern-day polygamy, with ties to the original Mormon faith that fostered the practice. The story alternated between the two time periods with relative ease; this was a book that I started reading and couldn’t put down.
          The author did an excellent job at untangling some of the complex emotions that happen when one man is married to multiple women, as well as portraying the religious significance of polygamy in early Mormon history. Overall, this was a very engaging work of historical fiction.

This book has been out a while – I picked up my copy at a used book-store. For history buffs, Ann Eliza Young’s book "Wife No. 19" is also available as an e-bookon Amazon for a reasonable price.


  1. I read Ann Eliza Young's book earlier this year; it was very revealing and highly recommended. I'll have to look for this book; thanks for the heads up.

    1. It was a good read - I started it and then couldn't put it down.

    2. BTW, have you given up on OS as well?

    3. I'm skeptical to put it mildly; at the rate their going there won't be anything to it after a while but if they fix the mess I'll think about it then.

  2. I just ordered a copy of Wife No 19. This sounds like a good next read. I had heard a couple reviews of this, and wondered how well they had pulled off the inner voices of Brigham. This is the first review by someone with connections to Mormon culture, which makes it more valuable to me.

    Happy Holidays!!

  3. When I heard what this novel was about, I immediately wanted to read it. The reason is that I've been so intrigued by news accounts of groups like the polygamous fundamentalists featured in this novel. For me, it was like a window into another world.

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