Tuesday, May 26, 2009


MAY BOOK: The Nineteenth Wife
AUTHOR: David Ebershoff

SYNOPSIS: (courtesy Louisa Thomas, New York Times)

Faith can make troubling claims on believers. In a prison diary — one of the many fictional documents in David Ebershoff’s third novel, “The 19th Wife” — the Mormon leader Brigham Young states one such problem plainly: “I know my faith to be the true faith of God . . . yet I cannot force belief upon others — or can I? Is this not my task, my mission? . . . I cannot know.”

Brigham Young married many women, some more by force than by choice. One of these women — officially his 19th wife (though the number was probably much higher) — rebelled. Her name was Ann Eliza, and she is a central character in Ebershoff’s book. A fictionalized version of her story runs alongside a murder mystery narrated by Jordan Scott, the son of a modern 19th wife who has been charged with killing her husband, one of the leaders of Mesadale, a modern-day fundamentalist community. Devout despite a wretched life, BeckyLyn Scott says she didn’t do it, and Jordan believes her.


I loved this book. It is probably not one that I would have chosen myself. It took me a long time to read it - I think that was because I was taking in all the historical parts. While I was reading it I was conscious that it was fact interwoven with fiction.

The two stories were easy to keep separate and I didn't find them confusing.

I was really interested in the history bits (though I know some of it was fabricated) but you got a broad sense of the early history of the Church of Latter Day Saints and the divisions therein.

I actually found reading about polygamy a bit stressful - I definitely know I couldn't be one of many wives!

Definitely one to recommend.


Penny said...

Interesting! I'm 46 on the hold list so probably won't get to read it this month ;) but will eventually.

Yes, I think I'd find polygamy a bit stressful too, unless of course you got on well with the other wives...

Jenny said...

Good on you for keeping up with the reading! Hmmm, now I think there could be something in that polygamy ........ lots of others to help with all the chores for starters

suzannah said...

i studied history (and religion) in college, so i think the faked historical stuff troubled me for some purist, academic reason.

it certainly was interesting to get an in depth look at polygamy. it was especially upsetting how the men cloaked their lust (and sometimes violence) in pious spirituality, taking on more and younger wives than they could support just to add variety to the bedroom. it made me wonder if the modern day mormon church is still visited by ghosts of its polygamist past: what if any impact does it have on gender roles or sexual attidues in their church today?

i'm glad you enjoyed it!

yodaobi said...

Did anyone have trouble with the fact his name was BRINGHAM YOUNG?

scrapgeek said...

I enjoyed it too. The LDS does have a fascinating and strange history. The polygamy is pretty well known - but holy undergarments?? LOL