Posted by: istop4books | August 10, 2009

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife: A Novel The 19th Wife: A Novel by David Ebershoff

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In this book, the author intertwines the historical beginnings of the Mormon church or Church of Latter Day Saints with the current consequences of polygamy, and he does so very well. Ann Eliza is Brigham’s wife #19, and she is a questioner – which was very rare at that time. Ann Eliza youngShe got the short end of the religious stick on more than one occasion, and this lead her become her own person and question not only her beliefs but the motives behind this unusual religion. The factual history of Brigham Young, her one-time husband, is also fascinating.

Fast forward to current times and BeckyLyn Scott has been accused of shooting her husband to death. BeckyLyn was known as the 19th wife. Her son, kicked out of the FirstLDS and dropped off alone on a highway years earlier, hears about this and returns to see his mom. Although still a teenager, he’s been through a lot and questions the 200px-Brigham-youngFirsts, the Mormons and most religions along the way. He feels his mom was not capable of shooting her husband because of her deep-rooted and unbendable beliefs.

Both stories are compelling in their own way. It’s very difficult to understand current day polygamists without understanding their history.
Why would a woman stay in a marriage when she has been shoved aside by newer and younger wives, over and over again? To figure it out, you have to go back to the teachings of the original church, and to what is left of it now. Their celestial marriages, their sacred underwear, their concept of heaven, of Gentiles and Mormons, of obedience to men. It’s complicated and fascinating subject at the same time.

NOTE: I read with interest a somewhat negative comment about this book.  The author of the comment felt that the book was diminished because of the curse words used and the abundance of sexual references. Here’s what I think: You can’t write a book and keep it real without them. I have 3 boys, that’s how they talk. While they wouldn’t dream of dropping the F bomb in my presence, they use it liberally among their friends. Jordan, Tom and Johnny would have been plastic characters had their language not been colorful. As for the sex: that’s such a big part of polygamy that there is no way it could be kept out of this book. It’s about sexual gratification, sexual repression, sexual manipulation, sexual everything. In no way did I find it salacious or superfluous. It was just part of a larger story.


As a companion to this book, I highly recommend: Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer – a non fiction history of the Saints and

Daughter of the Saints: Growing Up In Polygamy by Dorothy Allred Solomon about escaping the lifestyle


Both are compelling books and great complements to this one.

View all my reviews >>

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