Monday, October 29, 2012

The 19th Wife

Many months ago, this book, by David Ebershoff, was recommended to me as a good possibility for my book club. Unfortunately, it's a little bit long and difficult to get at the library, so it hasn't made the cut - yet. I requested a digital copy which finally came! Hooray!

As the name probably suggests, this is a book about Mormons who practice polygamy. As it was first explained to me, this is the story of Ann Eliza Young, a real person who was the 19th wife of Brigham Young, one of the early leaders of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Ann Eliza Young's story is unique because she abandoned her marriage to Brigham Young and began traveling our country as an advocate against polygamy. She actually wrote a book called "The 19th Wife" shortly after leaving Brigham's household.

David Ebershoff's book, however, is a fictional take on Ann Eliza's book. He retells her story, including lots of details about her childhood and her parents, to explain why she was unhappy in a plural marriage. In addition, there is another story in this book: a young man named Jordan is the protagonist in a tale set in current day. Jordan is a 20-something young man who has been expelled from an invented sect of Mormonism where polygamy is still practiced. Jordan returns to Utah from his new life in California when he discovers that his mother has been charged with his father's murder. He then attempts to prove his mother's innocence. At first, the only apparent connection between Jordan's mother and Ann Eliza Young is that they both were Wife number 19. However, these two stories wind together to paint a picture of polygamy, Mormonism, and life in Utah over the course of the last 150 years.

I would highly recommend this book. It was longer than I had anticipated, and it took me quite some time to get through it. I thought that the "two narrators" approach kept the plot moving. I had expected before starting this book that I would identify with Ann Eliza Young. I suppose I did, given that she was a young woman attempting to take control of her life. However, I identified much more strongly with Jordan and was ultimately much more intrigued by his story than by Ann Eliza's.  While I might have been interested enough to read a book that was just about Jordan, the story from Ann Eliza's time adds some important context. The historical portion describes quite a bit about why polygamy became popular in the first place and what the early experience of it was like. Knowing more about this helps the reader understand, maybe even before Jordan himself, exactly what he has to figure out to determine whether his mother is actually innocent. Since I love history, and mystery, I really enjoyed this book!

No comments:

Post a Comment