Wednesday, August 26, 2009

19TH WIFE by David Ebershoff

The 19TH WIFE weaves two storylines together to present a picture of the effects of polygamy on both women and children.  The story opens with Jordan Scott, a "lost boy" who was left on a dirt road in his early teens when he was considered a threat to the elder men of his Mormom sect.  Jordan returns home when his mother, wife #19, is accused of murdering his father. As Jordan investigates the truth of the murder, Ebershoff carries the reader into the past to witness the story of another 19th wife, Ann Eliza Young.  Through Young's book, letters and journal entries, we see the early effects of polygamy within the Mormon church and one woman's attempts to end the practice.  The two stories present a picture of the negative consequences that such a practice can have on the women and children and even sometimes the men who practice it.
The 19TH WIFE succeeds where other recent historical fiction does not.  Whereas ONE THOUSAND WHITE WOMEN presented an unbelievable characterization of historical women that channels male fantasy, Ebershoff offers a well-researched and complex portrait of these women that presents them with all of their flaws.  Although the reader feels great sympathy for these women, they are not perfect and are presented as such. The reader is left to decide what the truth really is. 
I truly enjoyed this book. It shed new light on the complexities and consequences of polygamy.  The historical sections were the most compelling. I often felt impatient with the modern-day storyline.  The solution to the modern mystery felt a little rushed and tidy.  Overall, however, this was a great read.
BOTTOM LINE:  Recommended.  For readers who are interested in this subject matter, the 19TH WIFE offers a compelling look into the secret world of polygamy.  Also recommended:  UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by Jon Krakauer and DESERT WIVES by Betty Webb 

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