The 19th Wife – Book Review

19th Wife cover LT BirdThe 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Release date: August 5, 2008

David Ebershoff’s “The 19th Wife” appears at first to be a daunting novel, weighing in at close to 600 pages, including the author’s note in the beginning.  I admit to cringing when I saw the size, sure that it would be awhile before I would get to any of my other books.

How happy I was to find out I was mistaken!  This book was so enjoyable that I read it in little more than 48 hours, sneaking a page here or there whenever possible.

“The 19th Wife” is a multi-time period story dealing with the legacy of polygamy in Mormonism and Morman fundamentalism.  The main characters are Jordan Scott – a young man kicked out at 14 years old of a polygamous community in Utah calling itself “First Latter Day Saints” for holding his stepsister’s hand – and Eliza Ann Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young turned moral crusader against polygamy.  Like Eliza Ann, Jordan’s mother is also a 19th wife.  Jordan is drawn back to Utah and back in contact with “The Firsts” when his mother is accused of murdering his father.

I have never read a book quite like this, historical fiction mixed with a present-day murder mystery.  I imagine that in a lot of cases, such an attempt would fail miserably.  With “The 19th Wife,” however, pulls it off brilliantly.  Mixed in with the two stories, Ebershoff included “documents” such as Wikipedia articles and requests for permission to research in LDS Church archives, as well as letters or memoirs of other historical figures and a thesis paper.  Instead of breaking up the action, this seems a clever way to impart to the reader information that neither first person narrator should have.

Although I was slightly disappointed at the way the murder mystery wrapped up in the present-day story thread, I thoroughly enjoyed this book.  I loved the concept, I was ecstatic that the author saw fit to include a “what’s true, what’s not true” note at the end of his book – why don’t more authors of historical fiction do this, by the way? – and I enjoyed both the story and the writing.  I will be on the lookout for this Ebershoff’s previous and future works.

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12 Responses to “The 19th Wife – Book Review”

  1. Literate Housewife Says:

    I absolutely must read this book. No doubt about it.

  2. lisamm Says:

    Jen, great review!! I love that the author included the note at the end about what was and wasn’t true. That should be REQUIRED with all historical fiction, don’t you think??

  3. MeganBritt Says:

    This sounds way more interesting than I thought it would from the look of it. Ergo proving – yet again – that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover… 🙂 Happy Memorial Day weekend!

  4. kegsoccer Says:

    Seems an appropriate subject given the contraversy in Texas right now. I’ll have to check it out.

  5. David Ebershoff - The 19th Wife « Fyrefly’s Book Blog Says:

    […] Devourer of Book’s Review of The 19th Wife […]

  6. fyreflybooks Says:

    I have never read a book quite like this, historical fiction mixed with a present-day murder mystery.

    You might be interested in Labyrinth, by Kate Mosse – it’s this format exactly, although with a little more conspiracy theory and religious mysticism thrown in.

  7. Lenore Says:

    I also got this as an ER book – need to start soon.

  8. Jennifer B Says:

    I would love to read this. I was raised LDS (but Jesus saved me a year and a half ago!) :). I really appreciate those historical notes at the end of historical fiction titles too.

  9. inkhornplatypus Says:

    When I read the description on LT, this book held no interest for me but from your review, it sounds like I made a mistake since religion and religious conspiracies are two of my favorite topics. I’d be curious to know if the author has any inside contact with Mormonism, since it can be hard to get accurate information about the group otherwise. Thanks for such an in-depth review- I’ll be sure to check this out in August.

  10. Breanna Says:

    Oooh, I love reading or watching anything that has to do with polygamy. I have to say it fascinates me. I absolutely love the show Big Love.

    I have to read this book when I get the chance!

    Thanks for the review. =)

  11. avisannschild Says:

    I’m a big fan of the show Big Love as well and was bummed I didn’t get a copy of this book as an Early Reviewer. Your review has convinced me all the more that I must read this book!

  12. loti Says:

    Loti says : I absolutely agree with this !

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