Wednesday, December 8, 2010

The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife
David Ebershoff

I'm fascinated by polygamy.  I don't know why. But it is no surprise that when I saw this title, I had to check it out.

A modern day mystery of a nineteenth wife who is accused of murdering her husband, The 19th Wife  is interspersed with the based-in-truth story of Ann Eliza Young, the purported nineteenth wife of Brigham Young.

I found the history of Ann Eliza Young more interesting than the modern murder mystery itself. Even so, the details around the modern mystery were compelling.  While polygamy as it is practiced in this novel is not the norm, it is what we think about when we hear stories of men like Warren Jeffs. 

Ebershoff highlights two especially poignant side effects to the world of fundamentalist polygamy. Young girls forced to marry men, sometimes more than twice their age, and live a life bearing children to build up credit in the afterlife. And the lost boys, young men cast out of the compounds to not be competition of the older men.  Ebershoff's recounting of these gelled well with what I have read in polygamist memoirs.

Ebershoff points out that the recorded history of the Mormon church is ambiguous at best.  And modern Mormons will argue that the modern fundamentalist sect portrayed in this book are not real Mormons. Still, there's no disputing that polygamy was a huge part of the church's past.  

The story of Ann Eliza Young, manipulated into a marriage with Brigham and then successfully divorcing him and helping fight against polygamy, was fascinating.  It was history I was unfamiliar with, and I enjoyed learning more about this story. Ann Eliza's own dubious motivation for fighting Brigham was only a small part of the story. Finding out about what happens to her is the truly intriguing part.

Not as quick of a read as I thought it might be, I still found The 19th Wife an entertaining read, especially if you are interested in the subject matter.

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