Monday, March 1, 2010

Review: He has HOW many wives?


David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife is one of those books that has been sitting on my shelf to be read for way too long. But actually, I’m glad I waited this long to read it. I won it last summer during a blog tour at the height of its hype…so pretty much everyone else read and reviewed it in a two month span of time. Now, it may be brand new for you!

The 19th Wife tells two stories interwoven but divided by a hundred years. And can you guess their connection? Yes, polygamy! More generally, the Latter-Day Saints, but more specifically, the Fundamentalists. The book opens in the late 1800s with the story of Brigham Young’s infamous 19th wife, Ann Eliza Young. She spent several years in a polygamous marriage with Young before fleeing the church and crusading across the country against polygamy. The other story is of a present-day 19th wife, Becky Lyn, who’s a part of the Fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints, or the “Firsts.” Becky Lyn is in jail and accused of murdering her husband. Her son Jordan, one of the “Lost Boys” excommunicated from the church during adolescence, finds out about his mother from a newspaper article and heads back to Utah convinced of her innocence and on a quest for the truth.
What I loved about this book was that it served as both historical fiction and a murder mystery, though both stories are complete works of fiction. I don’t know much about the Mormon faith or its history, but I could completely buy everything Ebershoff wrote as truth. The whole controversial premise was very intriguing to me and led me to Wikipedia many times during reading. I’ve read some criticism from Mormons about this book, but I found Ebershoff to be very balanced in dealing with such a controversial topic. I found the author to be very clear in distinguishing that this is a subgroup, a minority, of the Mormon faith without generalizations.
Some sections dragged, but overall this was a very thought-provoking read about faith and community. Google search will come in handy after reading this one! I’m kinda interested in what else Ebershoff as written.


Salvatore said…

As I've been told, everyone needs a Mormon book on their list. I've never read anything about this group, so I know nothing. Maybe this would be a good introduction, at least into a fictional version.

novelwhore said…

I looooove polygamy – or at least books on the topic. I'll definitely have to pick this up. The jacket is reminiscent of the YA look at polygamy in Carol Lynch Williams' THE CHOSEN ONE. I tried to read Kraukauer's UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN: A History of a Violent Faith and found it too disturbing – I prefer the fictional version. Thanks for the review; yet another book to be added to my wish list!

Kristen said…

My book club is reading this one for this month. I wrinkled my nose when I heard but your review makes me vaguely hopeful that it'll be better than I expect.