I found this to be a real eye-opener! Coming from a Mormon background (I grew up in Utah), this book was very relevant for me. I thought Ebershoff did a great job in telling this story that includes the roots of polygamy in the Mormon Church along with a modern day murder mystery in a polygamist cult and how the two stories connect with each other. I tend to agree that the story would have perhaps been better if only the story of Ann Eliza Young was told, but I did get engrossed in the modern-day story as well. Reading the story of the Mormon beginnings and Brigham Young was definitely not the same stories I was taught in Mormon Sunday school. Especially the baser aspects of why Brigham and Joseph Smith entered into polygamous relationships and some of the other historical aspects such as the "hand-cart tragedy." This is a work of fiction and it is hard to separate the fact from the fiction, however, I think the author tried to accurately portray the events as much as possible.
The story within the modern-day cult reminded me a lot of the HBO series "Big Love." I would recommend this series highly. This book also piqued my interest in reading more about Ann Eliza Young -- I would like to read her book "Wife No. 19" at some point. I didn't realize she had such an impact on the Mormon Church's renouncement of polygamy. Overall a high recommendation for this book.
I'm one of the rare people that didn't enjoy this book at all. I didn't even bother finishing it, placing it back on PBS almost a week after receiving it. I felt Ebershoff was a gruff author, writing at a 6th grade level and in a very choppy manner. While there was definitely a story to be told here, it merited refined words written in more eloquent ways. Neiter refinement nor eloquence can be found in this book. Save yourself the time and look for a better book to read.
Ebershoff manages to straddle multiple stories, centuries and leading characters without leaving the reader behind. All voices feel authentic and it is easy to let go and be carried away by the quirky circumstances of a world I could never understand. While it is not out and out historical fact, I am that much closer to understanding this totally foreign religion without fear and just a little self-indulgent anger. It is, after all, a novel.
A superb read through and through!
This book kept me spell bound to the end. I loved the historical fiction sections because there were so many different ways of moving the story along. Ebershoff uses many different styles of writing including memoires, newspaper articles, diary entries, etc. It kept me guessing until the end of how the two stories (one historical, the other modern) would come together in the end. I couldn't put the book down.
The simultaneous story of two 19th wives: Ann Eliza Young, married to Brigham Young, left Utah, divorced him after five years, went on the lecture circuit talking about the truth of polygamy, and wrote a memoir. She was instrumental in ending polygamy in LDS. Meanwhile, in the now, Jordan is surfing the web in California and sees his mother BeckyLyn on the front page of the local paper where he grew up in Utah. His father is dead and his mother has been charged, they too have a celestial marriage. Jordan, who was dumped on the side of a highway as a 14 year old, and excommunicated for holding his sister's hand, plays private eye because his mother has no one else. The historical fiction and contemporary parts of the novel are buoyed by various documents: IMs Jordan's dad was having when he was killed, flyers advertising Ann Eliza's lectures and performances as an actress, a wikipedia entry, history papers written by a BYU student.
What Ann Eliza and Jordan both say, show and write repeatedly is how very much polygamy warps, harms and limits the wives, yes, of course, but *the children*. FLDS communities continue. Texas returned all those children, including the very young wives and mothers. States, especially Utah, must enforce the law. Maybe The 19th Wife just like Wife #19 before it, can have that impact and help to end the tyranny. It's a terrible practice. But a pageturner and a terrific book!