Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Review: The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

Title: The 19th Wife
Author: David Ebershoff
Genre: Historical Fiction/Contemporary Crime
Publisher: Doubleday , 2008


This is a novel that combines a modern murder mystery with historical fiction in a very unique way. Where most authors will attempt to move between the two time periods without interrupting the flow of the writing each of these narratives have a distinctive tone of their own which makes one feel as though you're reading two different books.

The present day story is told by Jordan, a young man raised in a separatist Mormon community still practising polygamy. Excommunicated six years earlier for holding hands with his stepsister he returns to Utah after discovering his mother , BeckyAnn , has been arrested for the murder of his father.

The historical account is the story of Ann Eliza Webb who was to become one of the many wives of Mormon leader Brigham Young . Her life is fascinating but equally so is the history of the growth of the Mormon Church .........the charismatic leaders, the long trek west to Utah and the struggle to build a place of their own.

BeckyAnn and Ann Eliza are both 'the 19th wife'..........the link between the two time periods is polygamy and religious beliefs and the issues they did, and still do, create for the men. women and children bound to this way of life.

I found the historical story compelling. My knowledge of the Mormons was fairly basic and I love nothing better than to add to my learning. I had never heard of Ann Eliza Young who, for the times she lived in and the environment she was brought up in ,was an amazing woman.

A divorcee with two young sons she was married to the 67 year-old Brigham Young when she was only 24. Five years later she filed for divorce citing neglect, cruel treatment and desertion.

She was promptly excommunicated and proceeded to tour the US lecturing on the evils of polygamy and mormonism.
She wrote a book called Wife No 19 in which she said ....."a desire to impress upon the world what Mormonism really is; to show the pitiable condition of its women, held in a system of bondage that is more cruel than African slavery ever was, since it claims to hold body and soul alike."

There is no doubt her efforts contributed to the changes that were to be made
in the legal system regarding polygamy.

When I first posted the cover of this book there were comments made that it's 'creepy, scary, sinister' which is true at first sight and not helped by the the back blurb 'murder mystery'. Its misleading.........I think the knife is symbolic and refers back to Ann Eliza's words about bondage and the fact she was one woman who cut through the ties that bound her and gained her freedom .

I expected this book to be about people and it is......lots of people both real and imagined and all of them with their own stories which makes for engrossing reading. What I didn't expect was the well-researched and detailed historical background and that I loved. It's added to my knowledge and left me wanting to read and find out more on this subject.

Highly recommended!

Royal Reviews Historical Fiction Challenge


  1. Highly recommended you say :D
    Good enough for me, and the library has it

  2. Sounds very interesting! I have this one on my TBR and can't wait to read it!

  3. This book is on my list, though I don't think I'd really realized what it was about until I read your review. Sounds like a really different read. Nice review - thanks for sharing!

  4. I hope you'll all read and enjoy it as much as I did.

  5. I read this one, and came away from it feeling as if I had really learned something about the origins of Mormonism. The historical accuracy was excellent. I'm a former history major and found the book really really good.