Review and Giveaway: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

With the success of HBO’s Big Love and the recent raid on the polygamist compound in Texas, there is a lot of interest in the subject of polygamy.  The idea of a harem:  one husband married to multiple wives, underage girls marrying much older men, huge households filled with children, a community cut off from the outside world, women in prairie dresses and braided hair, husbands keeping “marriage manager notebooks” to keep track of how often they visit their wives’ beds- it’s fascinating and titillating subject matter.

David Ebershoff takes on this sweeping topic in his book, The 19th Wife, giving the reader both a contemporary murder mystery and a historical view of plural marriage.   The stories are parallel and not totally interconnected, allowing the reader to get the big picture- the history and it’s effect on current times- without confusion. 

There is the historical story of Ann Eliza Young, one of Brigham Young’s wives, who divorced him after 5 years and went on to help end polygamy by speaking out about it.   Told with depth and clarity, from many viewpoints and with various fictionalized documents, letters, and research papers (even a wikipedia entry!), we get a good sense of the history of the Mormon religion, the early days of the church and its Prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and the divine revelation of celestial marriage that nearly caused it’s downfall. 

There is also the modern day story of Jordan Scott, a gay 20 year old who was turned out of an FLDS polygamist household, ordered by his father to be dumped along the side of a highway by his mother at age 14 because he was caught holding the hand of his step sister.  Jordan, living in California, sees a news story on the internet about his mother, also a 19th wife, being arrested for killing his father.  He travels back to Utah to see his mother in prison to find out what happened.  He becomes convinced of her innocence and proceeds to investigate, with the help of his mother’s attorney, his secretary, Johnny (a street smart 12 year old, also turned out by the sect), and Tom-also gay and estranged from the Mormon Church because of it. 

I liked both stories very much and think that together they make for an intricate and well rounded portrayal of the complex issue of polygamy; the reasons it existed in the past and why it is still around on the fringes of society today.  While reading The 19th Wife, I wasn’t clear on what was fact and what was fiction, but that didn’t detract from my enjoyment of the book.  It wasn’t until I read the Author’s Note and Acknowledgements at the end that I understood that the documents were entirely fictionalized, which was fine except I wished I’d known that from the beginning.  It was all very realistic and believable.  

The 19thWife is a great book.  It drew me in and put me into the minds of people struggling with their faith, questioning their beliefs and their leaders, and wrestling with difficult decisions, something we all do.  And isn’t that what excellent historical fiction should do-present differing viewpoints and make you think?  This book is wildly successful in that area! 

You can visit David’s website for all kinds of fascinating info at The19thWife.com.  It’s interesting to note that in 1875, Ann Eliza Young really did write a bestselling and controversial memoir, Wife No. 19, and you can download and read the original memoir from David’s site. 

So, have I piqued your interest?  Want to read the book yourself?  If you’d like a chance to win a hardcover First Edition copy of The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff, leave a comment here by Friday, November 7th.   So sorry- this is only open to residents of the US and Canada due to shipping expenses. 

I received this book as part of David’s TLC Book Tour, and he also generously sent me a 2nd signed and personalized copy to keep (thanks, David!) but what’s up with that date?  My calendar says 2008! 

David Ebershoff has been all around the blogosphere doing interviews and guest posts.  Here’s his schedule if you’d like to follow his tour:

David Ebershoff’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, Oct. 15th:  Maw Books (Natasha got to meet David at a book signing!)

Thursday, Oct. 16th:  Maw Books (review)

Friday, Oct. 17th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement (guest post and review)

Monday, Oct. 20th:  She Is Too Fond Of Books (will have another post soon with David answering questions from readers)

**Check out this post at She Is Too Fond Of Books about a book signing with David

Tuesday, Oct. 21st:  Age 30 – A Year in Books

Thursday, Oct. 23rd:  A High and Hidden Place

Monday, Oct. 27th:  It’s All About Books (guest post) and review

Tuesday, Oct. 28th:  Musings of a Bookish Kitty (review and author interview)

Thursday, Oct. 30th:  Books on the Brain (giveaway)

Monday, Nov. 3rd:  The Cottage Nest

Tuesday, Nov. 4th:  B&B ex libris

Wednesday, Nov. 5th:  Anniegirl1138

Thursday, Nov. 6th:  The Tome Traveller

Friday, Nov. 7th:  Educating Petunia

Monday, Nov. 10th:  The Literate Housewife

Wednesday,  Nov. 12th:  Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, Nov. 14th:  Book Chase