Saturday, August 21, 2010

Book Review: 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife 
By David Ebershoff
505 pages

The 19th Wife, from the flap:
Spellbinding and unforgettable, David Ebershoff's The 19th Wife combines epic historical fiction with spellbinding modern murder mystery to create a brilliant novel of literary suspense.

It is 1875, Anna Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband., Brigham Young, prophet, leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled  and a outcast. Anna Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States.  A rich account of the family's polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman becomes a plural wife.

soon after Anna Eliza's story begins a second exquisite narrative unfolds a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present day Utah.  Jordon 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 Anna Eliza;s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan's search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.

My thoughts of 19th Wife:  

With modern times Jordan's mother is in a polygamous marriage.  She is the 19th wife. She is accused of murdering her husband.  Her son, Jordan who is a young adult. Was exiled out of the compound because he was seen holding a girls hand when he was 15.   Through the entire book he is trying to help find out who the killer was.  He never believes it is his mother.

Then it flips to the historical Mormon Church's beginnings. Since I did not know anything about the religion and the church I found it very interesting.  There was a woman named Anna Eliza Young, she was married to the famous Brigham Young.  Brigham Young was a famous Mormon leader.  The Mormon Church believed in polygamy.  She was a advocate to stomp out polygamy. There was a real person named Anna Eliza Young.

The novel is great for discussion. How do you keep up with all your wife's. ?What about the children? How would you feel if you lived in this kind of marriage? What happens to the boys when they become adolescence? The women actually had to wait in line to talk to their husband.
The husband had a time table for each of them. #1 wife had Monday night, #2 wife had Monday afternoon etc., etc.. Can you imagine the complication this was.  Brigham Young and his followers used polygamy for their advantage. It was a form of abuse to the wives. But it was child abuse to the young girls that were forced into marriage

There was competition of the wives. The favourites  received a beautiful home,  jewelry, and clothes etc..  The men would have several homes for each of their wives. The wives were jealous of each others time with the husband. Or the affection they gave to each of them.    Some of the families enjoyed the commune life. Some of the families had over 100 children. The wives shared in the responsibilities of the household.   How would the other wives feel if another wife came into the family? How would they treat the children when they were born? Would they love them or reject them?

Anna Eliza after she married Brigham Young was given a new home. But there was a price to pay. She had to farm for the entire family.  But then after she was not needed there. She was given a dilapidated home. This is when she realized that this kind of marriage was a form of abuse and she was not going to tolerate this any longer.  She decided she was going to go on the lecture circuit to let society become aware. Since Brigham Young and the Mormon Church denied they were polygamists.  With the help of Anna Eliza and several others a law was passed called The Poland Law that stamped out polygamy.

While reading the novel, I dug and did my own research on Brigham Young and Anna Eliza Young and the Mormon Church.    The characters were rich in detail and multi dimensional.  Most historical novels are one dimensional characters.  The story was multi layered as well.  The only thing I did not like, and irritated me while reading.  Was the flipping back in forth of the two stories. But I think this gave the book depth and dimension. I don't think the book would have been as good as a read if it did not.    The novel gave you  a idea of the life of a polygamous marriage. Believe me I would not want to live that lifestyle.  One of the reasons polygamy ended was because it would have been the end of the church.  

The novel uses the book, The 19th Wife( that Anna Eliza Young did write many years ago). The history of the church, and Eliza Young, and the story of Jordan and his mother made the novel confusing at first till I got into the book. 

I am not going to give you the spoilers of course. But I will tell you the ending justified the entire book, the murder and polygamy.   Which at first I did not like. But after digesting it for a few days.  It made a lot of sense.   

I enjoyed reading this book. I had this book on my shelf for two years. But I am assuming the 500 page book may have been a bit daunting.  Luckily my book club talked me into it.  Thank you 38th Ave. Diva Readers for picking this one.  I recommend this highly.

  I already started talking about this novel to other book club members.  I can see this will be a good book club discussion and also a good  spring board for discussion of polygamy and what life was like for the wives.  

Look out for my post of our book club meeting this month.    We will be meeting in October for, Have a Little Faith by Mitch Albom.


Lisa said...

A friend from my book club just loaned this one to me. Glad to know that it sounds like it will be really interesting. Love that you did the research. I really liked Ebershoff's The Danish Girl so I wanted to see what else he's written.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I agree this is a great book club discussion book. Personally I just felt infuriated through most of the book!

My book club did Have A Little Faith last month. The good news is that it's a very fast read! :--)

Mari said...

Great recap! This would make for a great book club selection. So many from my book club have read it that we have never considered it.

It's a strange culture for those of us who are not mormon (and from this sect).

Thanks for this post and the time you put into it. It was nice to remember the book and all the details.

Stephanie said...

Unfortunately I did not love this book as I expected I would. I loved Ann Eliza's portion and the history involved in it but I did not think Jordan's narrative flowed at all. The writing and plotline seemed amateurish.

Shooting Stars Mag said...

Nice review. If you or any of your readers are interested, you can bid for a copy of this book marked up by the author. He writes notes in the margins giving a director's cut behind the scenes version:

all money goes to a great cause as well. :)


Canada said...

David Ebershoff has done a wonderful job of creating believable characters in both the stories taking place within the book. He gives us a good idea of how the First got a hold on people, what the Prophet was like, and how people lived in the late 1800's under his leadership. He paints a very believable story.

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