Tuesday, June 3, 2008

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

This book is the fastest 600 pages I’ve ever read. I received the book through the LibraryThing Early Reviewer program and I have to admit that I was a little intimidated by its size. I am not a speed reader. I tend to dawdle - I re-read passages, linger over good descriptions and generally take my sweet time - but this book hooked me right from the start. I read the first 300 pages in a single sitting and was surprised at just how quickly it moved along.

The 19th Wife is a complicated braid of a story, reaching from today’s headlines back to the origins of the Mormon religion. It combines a modern-day murder mystery with the fictionalized account of a well-known plural wife and a wealth of “documents” telling her story. The research required would have been phenomenal and it could have been dry as dust. Instead, the mix of fact and fiction, narrative and document, cleverly tells a complex story in a very interesting way.

Jordan is a "lost boy": raised in a fundamentalist Latter-Day Saints community known as The Firsts, at age 14 his mother and two church elders left him along the side of the highway to fend for himself. Six years later, his mother stands accused of his father’s murder. As Jordan struggles with his mixed emotions about his mother, her faith and her crime, we learn the story of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, early leader of the Mormon Church. Her story is historical fiction but based on historical fact. Ebershoff’s “documents” - fiction, but written in the style of actual historical documents - provide abundant details of her life, her marriage, and her crusade to end polygamy in the US.

Ann Eliza’s story is by far the meatier portion of the book. There is so much to tell! The history is compelling and you can’t help but draw parallels - Ann Eliza and Jordan, both victimized by their mother’s faith. Their mothers - both 19th wives - unable or unwilling to see the pain they are causing or change their course. A host of people, male and female, whose lives were shaped by the words of a prophet. Their world has changed very little in the hundred years between the families in this book.

The 19th Wife was a fabulous read and I am already recommending it to people I know. I expect to find it on my “Best of 2008” list at the end of the year. You can order your copy here.


Amy Sisson said...

Hi Lisa, I followed your comment on my review blog here (re: customizing blogs). I just wanted to say that I enjoyed your most recent review here -- and I love your little icon at the top left of your blog!

Amy said...

I really want to read this book, thanks for the review!

Jacquie L Reaville said...

That was a great review because I want, want, want that book now. I love fiction that's based on fact and I'm fascinated by all religions so that's an added bonus. Thanks!

Lenore Appelhans said...

I just started this and am loving it so far!

Lisa said...

Jacquie - thank you so much! I guess that's what a book review is supposed to do.

Marcia said...

This book has been on my wish list since appearing at the Early Reviewers group at Librarything. Now I'm waiting for Amazon to put it in Kindle format. If you enjoyed this one you should read "Escape" by Carolyn Jessop with Laura Palmer which is one of my top reads for 2008. It's a first-person, non-fiction account of her life within the FLDS and her escape.