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The 19th Wife

August 23, 2008

The 19th Wife
David Ebershoff
Random House, 2008
528 pages
Fiction
Book provided by Random House Publishing

So I raved about this book on my blog earlier this week and I stll feel the same way about it. I really, really enjoyed reading this book. Mr. Ebershoff skillfully blends the life of Anne Eliza, the 19th Wife, of Brigham Young with a modern day murder mystery set in a polygamist sect, the Firsts. While either story would have been fine on it’s own woven together they give the reader a deeper understanding of celestial marriage and polygamy. This is an especially timely book given the current happenings in Texas. Instead of just brushing off polygamy as a religious practice that some view as offensive and perverse Mr. Ebershoff provides the background and context for this teaching and it’s affects on the families involved. At no time does Mr. Ebershoff preach or condem any religious practice in this book. He simply tells a story.

While using documented material from Church archives, memoirs, newspaper articles and interviews as a basis for his story this is a narrative work of fiction. He uses Anne Eliza’s voice to provide the background and set the stage for polygamy as it is currently practiced. He uses Jordan’s voice to tell us what it’s like to be a child raised within this community and then ex-communicated. Jordan is one of the lost boys. Kicked out at a relatively young age when he would appear to be competition for young brides and, in this case, because of his sexual orientation. While I feel this detracts a small bit from his story that doesn’t make it any less true. I might have merely wanted him to be a lost boy.

Page by page this story drew me in. The deeper into the history of Church teachings surrounding polygamy the more fascinating this book became. Overall this book makes one of my top recommendations for 2008.

If you read The 19th Wife and enjoy it I also recommend Escape by Carolyn Jessop. Ms. Jessop was one wife of Merril Jessop leader of the Texas sect of FLDS. While the FLDS differs from mainstream Mormonism, and might differ or not from the Firsts described in The 19th Wife, it is no less a fascinating read than The 19th Wife. Another book I intend to read along these same lines and haven’t gotten to yet is Shattered Dreams by Irene Spencer.

X-posted: Book Club & ARC Blog

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3 Comments
  1. September 9, 2008 10:30 am

    Wow, okay, I’m sold on this one. It’s going straight on my TBR list, do not pass go, do not collect $200 (although that $200 would’ve been nice to buy more books). I’ve read Carolyn Jessop’s book, I’ve read Irene Spencer, I’ve read just about everything my library has on polygamy (and some through the interlibrary loan system). Thanks for the great review, I’m excited to read this one day soon. đŸ™‚

  2. September 9, 2008 4:51 pm

    Hi ladies~

    Thanks for stopping by. This is a wonderful book and I hope you both enjoy it as much as I did.

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