The 19th Wife – Review

I love reading historic fiction. It’s so satisfying to learn while being entertained. Literary perfection for the multi-tasker 🙂

So when a friend passed along The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff, I eagerly snapped it up.  I’m happy to report, the novel delivered an amazing story wrapped in an intimate picture of lives of both the early day Latter Day Saints and those who currently live in the aftermath of polygamy.

Ebershoff delivers two entwined stories. The first is the historically -based story of Ann Eliza Young. We see how her family came to be followers of Joseph Smith and made the journey to Utah. We get to see how the message of celestial marriage was introduced to the Latter Day Saints and then how it morphed and became a dominating force in the church. Ann Eliza was a catalyst to ending polygamy after she eventually escaped her role as the 19th wife to Brigham Young.  She toured the country beginning in 1875 telling her story, writing a book and fanning the flames that eventually led the Mormon church to denounce polygamy.

The second story is in present day, Mesadale, Utah.  Imagine that you are the husband to 15 or even 20 wives and father to some 40 children. Now your church says, “oops, no more polygamy.” What do you do with the mess you’ve made? Some chose to clean it up and others chose to hide out in Mesadale and keep on living what they believed to be the true doctrine of Joseph Smith. The story in Mesadale erupts with a gun shot. A 19th wife has been accused of shooting her husband and this ignites her excommunicated son to return and find out what really happened.

I was completely engrossed in both story lines. I was able to feel the power of faith in these characters and better understand what faith allows the mind to overlook.  The sacrifices women (and even men) made during this period are amazing. I believe that all religions have darkness in their histories. What man has done in the name of “God” is both inspiring and horrific at times. The LDS church is no better or worse in that respect. True religious leaders need to embrace and confront those mistakes and triumphs. Don’t hide them. Share them. Learn from them.

This entry was posted on Friday, March 26th, 2010 at 1:26 pm and is filed under Book Review. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

Leave a Reply