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The 19th Wife

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The 19th Wife

When I first picked out this book I had no idea how hard it would be to write a review of. While this book is a fiction work, it is based on a true story of the Mormon church and Ann Eliza Young’s marriage to Brigham Young and then her apostasy. Ebershoff said in his acknowledgements page that he did fill in a lot of gaps in the story with his own fictional elements but that much of it, the Ann Eliza Young section, is based on her memoir Wife No. 19. 

The novel is told in many different narrative styles and voices from an academic scholar’s paper, letters, diary entries, and even a Wikipedia page. I thought that adding so many different elements really spiced up the narrative and kept me thoroughly enticed. Not knowing very much about the Mormon church and it’s foundations, I found this book fascinating. Looking at a religions origins and how different people built it up to what we know it as today is captivating. Ebershoff does a wonderful job of taking each character and transporting them into his fictional world. Each characters has such a powerful and distinct voice, based largely on the author’s extensive research.

At the time this book came out it was extremely topical. A year before the novel was published the YFZ, or Yearning for Zion, Ranch was raided after the authorities received a call from a 16 year old girl claiming physical and sexual abuse. This ranch, run by the Jeffs, who are now imprisoned, was much like the Firsts in Ebershoffs novel. They were an off shoot of the Mormon church who left to pursue what they consider true Mormonism as preached by Brigham Young and Joseph Smith, mainly polygamy. In the novel, the Firsts broke off of the Mormon church in 1890 after anti-polygamy laws were passed. They believed that true Mormonism must include polygamy since it was passed down from the Prophet. Many believed that if this edict could be changed what else about the Mormon faith could be edited?

In the present day sections of the novel, Jordan Scott represents one of the Firsts who was excommunicated for holding a girls hand. He was banned from coming back and dropped on the highway to fend for himself. After Jordan hears that his mother is on trial for shooting his father, he travels back to Utah, a place he thought he would never see again, to find out if she did it or not. What ensues is an amazing battle of belief and truth, intertwined with Ann Eliza Young’s experiences as a plural wife.

The novel does an amazing job of exploring the tenacity of belief and the lengths people will go to retain and uphold their belief system. It poses many questions about the mysteries of faith and how it can both uplift and corrupt. For anyone interested in religions, heretics, and origins this is the novel for you.

Rating: 4/5

Stay tuned for the next installment of Book Battle 2015.