Pretty good, interesting insight into polygamy. The modern day tale leaves something to be desired though.
a novel that perfectly reflects fundamentalist LDS mentality
This book is a novel inspired by the real life of Ann Eliza Young, a woman who escaped polygamy in the Early LDS church and Brigham Young's 19thwife.
I purchased this book because, having previously read the real story of Ann Eliza Young, I was curious to see what Mr. Ebershoff changed and why.
I am familiar with quite a few real biographies of people who lived polygamy first hand and, reading this book, I thought that it reflects the same feelings and sorrow felt by these women.
However, this is only fiction so it should be read for entertaining purposes only, and not as a substitute for real-life accounts.
I have the impression that, with this book, the author wanted to compare early, cultish Mormon practices with what the FLDS does today. Strangely enough, whilst many people criticize Fundamentalist Mormons, few realize that mainstream Mormons have practiced the same atrocities over the years and still consider polygamy a holy practice (Bruce McConkie, Mormon Doctrine page 578).
It's hard to imagine the appearance of a more timely novel. David Ebershoff, an award-winning author who teaches in the MFA program at Columbia University, seems to have had his finger on the pulse of one of the most potentially explosive cultural signposts of our time, even as it often flies under the radar or gets lost in the relentless media cycle.
Who can forget the news images of the dozens of women and hundreds
of children, all in their anachronistic prairie garb and old-fashioned hairdos, being removed by Texas Child Protective Services from the reclusive Yearning for Zion Ranch just a few months ago?
The heated exchanges about whether members of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (FLDS, a fringe polygamist offshoot of the mainstream Mormon Church) were guilty of sexually abusing their children and essentially enslaving their women under the guise of an archaic, religion-based notion of patriarchal plural marriage filled the airwaves and the blogosphere for weeks before the media turned its gaze to the next big story.
In "The 19thWife," Ebershoff brilliantly taps into mainstream Mormon anxiety about its own polygamous history, as well as the development of the secretive fringe communities that continue to honor the polygamous teachings of Mormon founders Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, by embedding the real-life story of the excommunicated so-called 19th Wife of Brigham Young, Ann Eliza Young, into a contemporary tale of the disastrous consequences of those secret communities today.
Combining some of the best aspects of historical fiction with an astute eye for modern reality, Ebershoff has crafted a surprisingly light-hearted look at a serious subject, entertaining the reader with page-turning immersion into a colorful--albeit somewhat psychotic--chapter of American history and how it still resonates today.
Two narratives are intertwined throughout "The 19th Wife," taking the reader on an epic historical journey in one and into a murder mystery played out quite unlike traditional crime fiction in the other.
Ebershoff's unconventional approach to both the historical fiction genre and the mainstream crime fiction genre includes a few pages of author's notes at the end, which details his historical research (with bibliography!) and his attempts to get a first-hand sense of a secluded polygamous community in Arizona (by visiting!). Needless to say, both projects had their share of challenges.
The primary contemporary storyline of "The 19th Wife" concerns a young man named Jordan Scott who while randomly surfing the web reads a news report that his father, "a religious con man, a higher-up in a church of lies, the kind of schemer who goes around saying God meant for man to have many women and children and they shall be judged on how they obey," had been shot in his home in Mesadale, a secretive polygamous compound on the outskirts of St. George, Utah, probably by his 19th wife, Jordan's mother.
At 14, Jordan had been summarily ejected (that is, dumped on the side of the highway in the middle of the night by his own parents) from the cult-like, "prophet"-led First Latter Day Saints compound for the supposed crime of holding a girl's hand. These so-called Lost Boys, having been so carelessly removed from their communities because they are viewed as competition to the older men for the limited number of young girls who will become wives, often wind up damaged and destitute, roaming the streets of Las Vegas and other southwest cities getting by as young throwaways always have.
But by 20, Jordan has managed to get his life somewhat together in California, acknowledging that he is gay but questioning his ability to love, working in construction and keeping far away from the life he was ejected from. Reading about his father's murder sends him back to Utah to see his mother in jail and to tie up at least some of the loose ends hes been left with.
Wrapped in to Jordan's story are long passages Ebershoff has adapted and elaborated on from the real writings of Ann Eliza Young, which detail not only her own life as a plural wife of LDS leader Brigham Young but also the history of the Mormons and the circumstances which brought her own parents into the church long before she was born.
Ann Eliza Young became quite famous for a time in the late 19th century as she publicized her autobiography and the heinous treatment of the women and children in Utah under the leadership of the Mormon Church and Brigham Young. Her mission was to urge the United States Government to abolish the practice of polygamy as abusive to women and children instead of protecting it under the guise of religious freedom, a fight which continues to be waged today, primarily by lawyers aligned with the Lost Boys and women who have left the FLDS compound in Texas.
The beauty of Ebershoff's novel is his light-handed touch amidst all the darkness that envelopes his story. The many ironies he is able to fold into the combined telling of Ann Eliza's historical recountings and Jordan's clever, streetwise and sometimes clumsy attempts to solve the mystery of who really killed his father (and to sort out his own future) leave the reader almost breathless with the depth of truth he is able to plumb in the face of a black spot on humanity.
Beginning with the title to the last page was interesting; a well written historical love story. I loved every minute spent reading it. I am looking forward to discussing the novel with my book club
This book is great! The parallel between historical fact and a fictional story of a modern day LDS ex-member is genius! I can't put it down.
Faith, I tell them, is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain.
Sweeping and lyrical, spellbinding and unforgettable, David Ebershoff?s The 19thWife combines epic historical fiction with a modern murder mystery to create a brilliant novel of literary suspense.
It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family?s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.
Soon after Ann Eliza?s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds?a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father?s death.
And as Ann Eliza?s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan?s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.