Review: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th WifeWith this book, you really get what could be two separate books in one.

Jordan Scott, who as a teenage boy was removed from his polygamous family home on the compound (by way of being left on the highway), returns to Utah after his mother has been arrested for the murder of her husband, Jordan’s father. The return is highly emotional for Jordan since he has not seen his mother since he was thrown out. In this track of the story we are given a look into modern-day polygamy as Jordan plays junior detective to solve who really killed his father. While on this path, Jordan learns more about himself as he opens his life up to his mother’s lawyer, the lawyer’s assistant, a teen who was also thrown out of the compound and a manager at a local hotel.

The parallel track of this story is historical fiction based on Brigham Young’s 19th wife Ann Eliza. Ann Eliza’s story is told via her memoir as well as other pieces of “primary” documentation, including: records, newspaper clippings and sermons of Brigham Young. These pieces of the book offer a history of the beginning of the Mormon religion, the migration of Mormons to Utah and the growth of polygamy. Ann Eliza was the daughter of a polygamous family, eventually became Young’s 19th wife, but later while seeking a divorce embarked on a speaking tour to discuss what it was like to be a wife in a polygamous relationship.

I was extremely impressed with how author David Ebershoff presented Ann Eliza’s story. Following Ebershoff’s extensive research, he creates a wide variety of these “primary” documents told via various voices – all seeming authentic and to actually be an original text. Before this book, I had not heard of Ann Eliza so was not sure where or how Ebershoff pulled his material. As soon as I finished the book, I was reading the author’s conversation at the back of the book so I could better understand the origins of Ann Eliza and her story. I now also find myself wanting to read both of Ann Eliza’s actual memoirs Wife No. 19 (from 1875) and Life in Mormon Bondage (from 1908). 

If you would like more insight into Ebershoff and his work for this book, an interview with him recently posted on LibraryThing.

The 19th Wife
ISBN: 978-0812974157
Pages: 544
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks

4 Responses

  1. I haven’t read this book–sounds interesing. As you read, know that polygamy in the Mormon religion (church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints–LDS) was only for a period of time and for very specific reasons. Any practicing of it today is not condoned by the LDS church.

    I can’t imagine being in the kind of lifestyle. Even with my stellar husband of 30 years and 4 terrific children I have had, that’s plenty.

  2. I thought this book was fantastic!

  3. Great review. I’m thinking of adding this one to my TBR.

  4. wow…hmm fantastic story. btw, then who killed mr. scotts? his wife or…???

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