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The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife (edition 2008)

by David Ebershoff

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Title:The 19th Wife
Authors:David Ebershoff
Info:Doubleday (2008), Edition: Airport / Export ed, Paperback, 528 pages
Collections:Your library

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The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff


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Showing 1-5 of 258 (next | show all)
I've always had an interest in "alternative" or "fringe" religions. I'm not sure Mormonism really qualifies thusly any more, but the unsanctioned polygamist sects that began as offshoots of that religion certainly do. This is a novel that is so full of historical facts that I had to keep checking wikipedia while I was reading it, to see how much of it was true. The narrative consists of a "contemporary" story, which is a murder mystery, that is told alongside the historical tale of Brigham Young and one of his wives. The parallel is that one of the main characters in the modern murder and the historical Mrs. Young are both 19th wives. The text is also shot through with correspondence and academic writings, which lend the story enough authenticity, as I mentioned, as to be believable. And, at the same time, unbelievable. The practice of polygamy, as described in this novel (which is based on real sources), is at best unfair, and at worst abusive, to the women who live in these communities. They are so insular that the people who are raised in them have no way of knowing how terrible they are. Somehow, the odd person makes it out, and that's how the lifestyle comes to be known to the outside world. Anyway, the most captivating thing about this novel is how steeped it is in history, although the characters, particularly the modern characters, are compelling also. I confess I kind of skipped over the historical denouements, since I was more curious to see how the modern murder mystery would play out, and after reading this massive tome, I was ready to move on. I did read the author's notes though, which if I had read them sooner, would have saved me a few trips to wikipedia, since he explains the historical bases for his story there. It was an interesting and engaging read. ( )
  karenchase | Aug 20, 2015 |
I was pretty excited to run across this book, as it's not often that I find historical fiction about New Religious Movements, even those as unobscure as early Mormonism. So a fictional account of Ann Eliza Young? Count me in! And everything about the publication of the book and others' reviews seemed to indicate it would be a good read. But 50 pages in, though already engrossed in the story and breezing through the pages, I became troubled.

For one thing, it's difficult to determine where Ebershoff's reliance on historical documents ends and his fictionalization of Ann Eliza, Brigham, and others begins. The inclusion of fictional documents supposedly from Mormon archives throughout the narrative doesn't help this. I wasn't sure how much of the book was simply a re-telling of Ann Eliza's own books and how much was literary license.

But what most bothered me was the lack of nuance. Ebershoff shows only the bad side of polygamy, in both Ann Eliza's portions of the novel and in the modern-day story. To a lesser extent, he doesn't seem particularly friendly towards the mainstream LDS faith in general, either historical or contemporary. It's all too-sweet missionary girls, crazy manipulative prophets, and gay therapy. The "Firsts," as the modern polygamists in the novel are called, are clearly a take-off on Warren Jeffs and the FLDS, which was all blowing up in the media around the time the novel was published. And while the FLDS IS almost certainly full of abuse and the extremes of patriarchal control, there are other fundamentalist Mormons for whom polygamy was and remains a vital, genuine, welcome part of their faith. Ebershoff ignores that, for those who practice it, polygamy is not necessarily what the FLDS has made it.

Faith is at the forefront of The 19th Wife -- why do people follow the doctrines they do, especially when they involve such radical lifestyles, or the casting off of beloved children, or harmful environments in which said children were raised. Ebershoff's answer seems to be simply that beliefs is formed from the situations in which people are raised, particularly when it's in comparative isolation. But he never gets the reader to truly feel as if this is true; it's too simplistic an answer, with no depth of feeling echoed in the characters. The end result is that his main characters just accept people as they are, despite the crazy beliefs they've picked up from their lives. It's not a very complimentary or nuanced resolution. The novel presents two interesting stories and tells them well in terms of plotline, but ultimately it lacks the depth required of such a controversial subject. ( )
  SusieBookworm | Jul 19, 2015 |
From the product description: “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 her family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how both she and her mother became plural wives. Yet 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, family, and faith.”

It took me quite a while to get through this book, not because it wasn’t interesting, but because I kept putting it down and coming back to it. The insight into polygamy is fascinating, especially told in so many voices. We all have our own opinions, but it was fascinating to hear the history and rationale behind it from “people” involved in the life. Ann Eliza Young was indeed the 19th wife of Mormon leader Brigham Young. Divorcing him she and her children became non-persons as far as the Mormon community was concerned. With no support system from church or family she made it her life’s work to try and end polygamy. Although this work is fiction, some of her story is included and makes for quite eye opening reading.
( )
  ChristineEllei | Jul 14, 2015 |
I bought this book to read on a western roadtrip; it had popped up in a Buzzfeed list of best books about a state and it looked interesting. I actually never got to it on the trip, but randomly opened it one day accidentally and started reading and could not put it down - it wasn't even next in my TBR queue. The story was absolutely riveting and it just pulls you in and you won't let go. The non-traditional structure of the book is a bonus; I didn't know about it but when I realized what was happening, really enjoyed it. Ebershoff has a great sense of when to let the historical portions of the book have the spotlight and when we need to come back to the present day. I also liked the thriller aspect of it, the cliff hangers, the unexpected twists and turns, and the historical roots meant I could look up the buildings he described and see both historical and present day images. I was so sad when I knew I was coming to the end, and the last two lines made me sit and sob for 10 minutes. Engrossing, sympathetic, fascinating. ( )
  Caryn.Rose | Mar 18, 2015 |
Interesting, but not what I was looking for. I hoped for another "The Danish Girl" so it is entirely my own fault for being disappointed! ( )
  KelAppNic | Feb 14, 2015 |
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Faith is to believe what you do not see; the reward of this faith is to see what you believe. - Saint Augustine
Like all the other arts, the Science of Deduction and Analysis is one which can only be acquired by long and patient study, nor is life long enough to allow any mortal to attain the highest possible perfection in it. - Arthur Conan Doyle
And now, if there are faults they are the mistakes of men. - The Book of Mormons, translated by Joseph Smith, Jr.
for my parents Dave and Becky Ebershoff and for David Brownstein
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Preface to the First Edition:
In the one year since I renounced my Mormon faith, and set out to tell the nation the truth about American polygamy, many people have wondered why I ever agreed to become a plural wife.
Wife #19:
A Desert Mystery
By Jordan Scott:
Her Big Boy
According to the St. George Register, on a clear night last June, at some time between eleven and half-past, my mom—who isn't anything like this—tiptoed down to the basement of the house I grew up in with a Big Boy .44 Magnum in her hands.
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"This exquisite tour de force explores the dark roots of polygamy and its modern-day fruit in a renegade cult not recognized by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (aka the Mormon church). Ebershoff (The Danish Girl) brilliantly blends a haunting fictional narrative by Ann Eliza Young, the real-life 19th “rebel” wife of Mormon leader Brigham Young, with the equally compelling contemporary narrative of fictional Jordan Scott, a 20-year-old gay man whose mother, another 19th wife, is accused of murdering his polygamist father, a member of the fundamentalist First Latter-day Saints, in Mesadale, Ariz. Excommunicated from the church at 14, Jordan tirelessly works, with help from local sympathizers, to unmask his father's true killer. In an author's note, Ebershoff explains how his character differs from the actual Ann Eliza, who published two autobiographies, the first of which helped put pressure on the Mormon church to renounce polygamy in 1890. With the topic of plural marriage and its shattering impact on women and powerless children in today's headlines, this novel is essential reading for anyone seeking understanding of the subject." -- Publishers Weekly (starred review)
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The history of polygamy in the Mormon Church intertwines the story of Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, and a modern mystery in which a polygamous man has been found murdered and one of his wives is accused of the crime.

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