#120 ~ The 19th Wife (Book Review and Giveaway)

November 10, 2008 at 1:22 am | Posted in Books | 25 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,


tlc-book-tours-graphic-tiny1It my great pleasure to be David Ebershoff’s host for today’s stop of the TLC book tour for his novel, The 19th Wife.

Click on the author’s name below for more information about him and his work.  The information contained on his website provide a great deal of information about the real lives of Ann Eliza Young and Brigham Young.

To find out more about TLC Book Tours, click here.

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

I have been anticipating reading The 19th Wife since I first read Devourer of Books’ review earlier this year.  This novel follows the evolution of plural marriage within the Mormon church from its first inception, the ultimate denouncement of the institution after Brigham Young’s death, and the sect called The Firsts who broke with the Mormon Church when the church began punishing polygamy with excommunication for they were sure that plural marriage did, in fact, lead the Saints to their salvation.  Ever since I’ve read my first review, I’ve read more and more wonderful reviews.  While Jordan Scott was a wonderful character and I found Ann Eliza’s life and prior to her divorce from Brigham Young engrossing, I wish that I enjoyed this book as much as others have.  For me extremely interesting and personal stories were bogged down by a structure that separated them with what was often dry research written by a Mormon graduate student.

Jordan’s story begins when his mother is arrested for the murder of his father, a powerful member of The Firsts in Mesadale.  Jordan is one of the Lost Boys, those young men excommunicated from The Firsts for varying small indiscretions.  One day during his adolescence, his mother drove him to the highway and left him there to fend for himself.  To him, she chose her church over her son.  As much as she hurt him, he cannot help but return to Utah when he reads about legal troubles.  He cannot stop himself for helping her, even though it keeps him far away from his new life and his next job.

Like Jordan, Ann Eliza was born to a faithful Saint.  Her parents, Chauncey and Elizabeth Webb are some of the first people converted by Joseph Smith as he leads his people to Nauvoo, IL in search of religious freedom.  While Elizabeth carried Ann Eliza, Joseph Smith comes to the Webbs and explains to them that God revealed to him that it was His will that Joseph’s Saints must populate the land through plural marriages.  Although the Webbs fought this teaching initially, Joseph Smith’s martyrdom convinced first Elizabeth and then her husband through her that plural, or celestial, marriage was God’s plan.  Ann Eliza was just a young child when the institution that would define her life and her life’s work set root for the Mormon people.  What she witnessed did not show celestial marriages leading each person closer to God.  She saw the practice eating away at each person’s soul.

What David Ebershoff does best is create strong, believable characters with their own distinct voices.  Jordan, Ann Eliza, Brigham, Queenie, 5, Tom, Chauncey, Lorenzo and Elizabeth were all compelling and I found myself easily caring them.  The people were flawed and beautiful and human.  Some of his characters were so honest and raw that it hurt to read.  For example, Chauncey’s section of the novel was perfect.  He was never as faithful a Saint as his beloved wife Elizabeth.  He did not want anything to do with plural marriage at first.  He loved his wife and wanted to be faithful to her.  Celestial marriage changed him.  It made him a slave to his physical desire and drove a wedge between him and the person he cared for the most in his life.  Hearing him look back on his life with a regret he never completely named was heartbreaking.

Polygamy is such a foreign concept to me.  After the news events of this summer, I appreciated reading a novel that could put that lifestyle into context.  Without that, the people easily viewed as a passing sideshow attraction.  The stories of these characters spoke volumes about faith, love, and the truths about the practice of polygamy within a theocracy.  As such, the conclusions to the research written by an outside character were not needed.   While it was intended to tie all the stories together logically, I found this structure intrusive.  It slowed the story down when it was nearing what could have been such a satisfying climax.  By the end, I was simply tired.


I would like to know what your thoughts are on polygamy, theocracy and religious freedom.  To sweeten the deal, I’d like to offer a copy of The 19th Wife to one of you who leaves a comment about these topics by the end of the day EST on Wednesday, November 12th.

Please note that this contest is open to the US and Canada only.  In the past month I’ve shipped three books to Singapore and one to Israel, so my international shipping budget has been drained for the time being.


There are many more wonderful stops, both past and future, on this book tour.  Check out the details below:

David Ebershoff’s TLC Book Tours TOUR STOPS:

Wednesday, Oct. 15th: Maw Books (Natasha got to meet David at a book signing!)

Thursday, Oct. 16th: Maw Books (review)

Friday, Oct. 17th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement (guest post and review)

Monday, Oct. 20th: She Is Too Fond Of Books (will have another post soon with David answering questions from readers)

Tuesday, Oct. 21st: Age 30 – A Year in Books

Thursday, Oct. 23rd: A High and Hidden Place

Monday, Oct. 27th: It’s All About Books (guest post) and review

Tuesday, Oct. 28th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty (review and author interview)

Thursday, Oct. 30th: Books on the Brain (giveaway)

Monday, Nov. 3rd: The Cottage Nest

Tuesday, Nov. 4th: B&B ex libris

Wednesday, Nov. 5th: Anniegirl1138

Thursday, Nov. 6th: The Tome Traveller

Tuesday, Nov. 11th:  Educating Petunia

Wednesday,  Nov. 12th: Diary of an Eccentric

Friday, Nov. 14th: Book Chase

To buy this novel, click here.


RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

  1. Well, you can see my full thoughts on polygamy from an LDS viewpoint in my book review that you linked too. But I wanted to leave a comment because just on Friday I was at Ikea and saw two polygamist girls. Full dresses, hair, everything. It’s odd to see it but not odd at the same time. Which is really scary. There really is a tight line between religious freedom, freedom of marriage, and what people view as right and wrong. If proposition 8 in California had not passed, I would not have been surprised to see the polygamist communities going to the courts and trying to make polygamy legal. Which would have totally made sense from a legal standpoint. My book club recently read Escape by Carolyn Jessop and I was surprised to find that half of the women thought polygamy should be made legal simply for the reason that the women and children wouldn’t be so stigmatized. To tell you the truth, I’m still not sure what my opinion is. (No need to enter me, I’ve got this book already.)
    What I would like to learn more about are the Lost Boys. It is there where current polygamous communities lose me. Any moral or religious footing they have falls by the wayside when they excommunicate sons for minor offenses.

  2. Okay confession time. I voyeuristically read some polygamist blogs. I find it very fascinating…the struggles these wives have. But they seem to mostly think that it’s the right way. Not all of them are Mormon either.

    I just don’t think I could ever do it, and my own faith isn’t too keen on it, though some of the forefathers hd multiple wives. 😉
    I had a lot of curiosity about it myself, although I didn’t know that there were polygamy blogs out there. I just hope that those women practicing it today really want to be in such an environment. I hate the idea of it being forced on anyone.

  3. I’ve heard so much about this book. I am very interested in reading it. Great review!

    My thoughts, aren’t really developed yet. I definitely have an immediate aversion to polygamy, personally. I believe that people should be monotonous… with whomever they choose (same sex, opposite sex, no one, themselves, etc.) I realize that some cultures believe differently, and I find it interesting to learn about the historical aspects. Like the pharaohs of Egypt, they usually had multiple wives.

    In the end, I definitely believe it should be a personal choice. I don’t think anyone should be forced to be a certain way (i.e. girls who are born and raised and forced into a polygamist relationship).

    Tough subject!
    This book will definitely give you much more to think about if you read it. Good luck in the drawing!

  4. As a Mormon, I can tell you that the doctrine of “celestial marriage” is one that means that people are married (“sealed” for more than just this life: marriage continues beyond “til death do us part.” Celestial marriage is still a part of Mormon doctrine. Polygamy has not been practiced for more than 120 years. Polygamy meant more than one living person could be sealed to a living man for that same “eternal” duration.

    I don’t think it was intended primarily for “physical desire” purpose. I just read a biography of Joseph Smith (review on my blog) and while I still don’t understand the reasons why God asked him to start the practice, I do believe he was inspired to do so. He was shocked by it too and didn’t want to do so (while he received the revelation in 1831, he put off until 1841 or 1842). Some of those he was married to were apparently not physically involved with him at all; apparently they needed to be sealed to receive salvation, but physical intimacy wasn’t necessary.

    I do not understand the need to practice polygamy among the living and it is something to wonder about, but technically, any second marriage made for the “eternal” time would be polygamous in the next life. (Mormonism allows second marriages.) Obviously, you’d have to believe in the next life for that to be an issue. I do believe in the next life and for some reason that “polygamy in eternity” concept doesn’t bother me.

    No need to enter me for the book; I’m not interested in reading it.
    Rebecca, thank you very much for your comments and for setting me straight about celestial marriage. Not having much of a background with the Mormon Church, I didn’t know that was something separate from polygamy. It seemed to be used interchangeably in the book.
    One thing that the author did do, and I’m sorry if I didn’t point this out, was provide a fairly balanced look at the practice of polygamy. He did indeed cover how long it took Joseph Smith to follow that revelation. It seemed that at that time they were trying to grow a community and if there were many more women than men, it would make sense in that way. The impression I got is that what started out as revelation became a slippery slope for some men. Actually, the storyline with the BYU graduate student would probably work better for people who have more knowledge about the church than I do. I can understand you not wanting to read this book, although I found it very respectful of the Mormon Church. I haven’t read The Da Vinci Code for similar reasons.

  5. Great review. (I’ve got the book, so I don’t want to be entered.) After reading this, I know I would not tolerate polygamy – I guess you have to born into it.
    I’ll be looking forward to your review!

  6. I have to say that I find polygamy fascinating and the religious reasons for it equally interesting, but I can’t imagine ever participating in it. I can’t wait to read this book! I’m a big fan of the television show “Big Love,” but I have no delusions that it’s a completely realistic vision of contemporary polygamy.
    I have been interested in Big Love since I first heard about it. I’ll have to check out the DVDs when they come out. Polygamy is a big thing it seems in new fiction. LibraryThing has a book called “Sister Wife” in November’s Early Reviewer program. I think that this book covers everything on this topic I would be interested in, but it’s interesting to see that other things are being published.

  7. For my polygamy is something that I don’t agree with, but I’m not about to force my opinion on other people. Freedom is freedom, and you either let people do what they want or you start creating cultural rules that limit it. I think we should have no part in telling people what is right and wrong when it comes to this sort of thing. As long as it is not harming anyone else, my opinion is just that – an opinion.
    I agree with what you say. Where this gets a little sticky about it harming others when you look at the children involved. Is it harmful to children to have a father who doesn’t have enough attention for them? Well, plenty of children grow up without fathers, so that’s pretty subjective. However, when young boy and men are kicked out because they are competition for the older men, should someone step in? There’s no easy answer to that one.

  8. I’d like to know if there are any books about lost boys as well. I’m not aware of anything right now. And like Rebecca stated, celestial marriage and polygamy are not the same thing. I’m glad she pointed that out. I do think The 19th Wife is a confusing read for those not familiar with the LDS church or its history. Like you said, it’s kind of like The DaVinci Code with Catholics.
    I have a Mormon co-worker who grew up in Utah and she has mentioned her “Jesus Jammies” in the past. I know have a darn good idea about what they look like now. This book did fill in a lot of things like that for me.

  9. I would love a chance to read this book! I do not believe in polygamy. I do not think that is the way God intended it to be. I also believe that marriage should be the union of man and woman. Religious freedom is a right in our country…what we were founded on. I do not deny anybody that.


  10. I’m the first person to not judge the next. Polygamy would not work for me in fact I am surprised anyone chooses it as a life path. But I do believe adults should be able to practice whatever they see fit when it comes to their personal lives. I think polygamy might be a separate issue entirely from religious freedom which you’d be hard pressed not to find a supporter of in Modern Day America. History has proven the importance of Religious Freedoms and one of the ways this country ensures it is by separating Church and State, so I don’t see how a Theocracy could be effectively implemented.

    Please enter me, still trying to win this book. Thanks! Sararush at hotmail dot com

  11. I don’t believe that polygamy should be legal, and from what I have read of numerous memoirs I don’t think that it is healthy for any involved. I know that personally there is no way I would ever be part of a polygamous relationship. I have a friend who is American who now lives in the Middle East and is married to a Muslim man, and she will not allow him to marry a second wife and still stay married to him.
    Alyce, I hadn’t thought about this being practiced in other cultures, but it surely isn’t something contained to the US. Can a wife prevent a man from taking a subsequent wife in the Middle East?

  12. I’ve read so many great reviews of this book and am looking forward to the rest of the tour. I’m surprised that the historical bits bogged down the read for you…though I have not read it myself, so I must reserve my judgment on that…but thank you for the warning.

    As for the giveaway question and entry, I would love to enter the contest. I’ve been dying to read this one and win a copy given my small budget for books, which it looks like will be spent on gifts given my recent pledge to myfriendamy’s latest campaign.

    Anyway, as for polygamy…I don’t know much about it, but if it serves a religious, rather than lustful purpose to a faith, as a US citizen, I cannot tell these people how to practice their religion…so long as they realize legally only one marriage is recognized. However, with that said, I’ve always wondered how sacred marriage vows of one marriage can still be upheld while marrying another. this is a touchy subject for many and it’s hard for me as an outsider to pass judgment or even understand its purpose. I have to say that I am mostly ignorant in this respect…other than knowing that it occurs and occurred as part of a religion’s past.
    Serena, it wasn’t the historical parts that slowed me down. It was the research papers, letters, and other types of information put in between pieces of the story that slowed me down. I’m thinking that I’m probably in the minority on that. Everyone else seems to have loved the book just as it is.

  13. Jennifer, nice review. And it seems to have spurred some interesting discussion.

    It sounds like there is a lot going on in this book. I gathered that from other reviews. Sometimes that can certainly be distracting, or, as you said, tiring.

    No need to enter me, as I’m swamped in books right now. I hear you!

  14. I really enjoyed this book, but admit I read it with preconceived, negative notions about the Mormon church. I was surprised that the book left me able to separate polygamy and Mormonism, despite its section on the history of the church. I love reading multiple books at one time so was also very happy the Ebershoff allowed me to satisfy that need in one book!
    I think that Ebershoff did a great job of separating the sin from the sinner so to speak. I left the book completely able to understand how and why BYU was named after Brigham Young. Church leaders are human beings in the end. If God chose only perfect people to speak through, you know how much we’d here from Him, right?

  15. Great review! With regards to polygamy, I am so totally a believer in the freedoms we are blessed to have in this country, and that includes of course freedom of religion. I believe that people should be able to practice their religion in whatever ways they feel are necessary, as long as they are not harming other individuals in the process (or animals, preferably, as I am an animal lover and would not wish to see them harmed on behalf of someone’s religious beliefs).

    Here’s where polygamy gets tricky, though. In a lot of ways, in a lot of polygamous families, women and children suffer abuse and exploitation at the hands of their fathers, husbands, brothers, uncles, etc. This I take a firm stance on – abuse is NOT OK, no matter what the reason. I think that there are polygamous families that are not abusive in any way, and in regards those people I think they should be able to do what they want, especially if they believe it’s a part of their religion to live their lives that way. But to those families that abuse their women and children as part of their polygamous lifestyles (including forced marriage of teenage girls, which in my opinion is definitely a form of rape), I absolutely cannot support their freedom to practice their religion in such a way.

    Whew, that was long winded. Thanks for the great giveaway!!

  16. I enjoyed reading your review. I just finished the book, and I’m really not sure what I think about polygamy. I don’t believe it’s right, but at the same time, it’s not my place to judge those engaged in it. I couldn’t live like that (As much as my husband drives me nuts sometimes, I wouldn’t want to share him! LOL), but then again, if that’s all you know… I don’t really know enough about the polygamist sects to say anything, but if the women and children are being abused, then that’s wrong.

    I didn’t mind the research papers so much. They weren’t as gripping as other parts of the story, though.

    Obviously, no need to enter me!

  17. I’d be interested to read this book. In regards to your question, I have to say that I do not agree with polygamy. I believe each person should have one spouse, and only one spouse. Obviously, if the couple breaks up, one or the other dies, etc then moving on to another relationship in the future is totally acceptable. I do not, however, believe you should be married to more than one person at a time. Yeuck.

    Regarding religious freedom, I definitely believe that every person should have the right to choose his or her religion and beliefs. I don’t believe that all religious are right, and i do believe there is only one true God. That being said though, I stand by my claim that I believe everyone has a right to choose his or her own religious path.

    Thanks for the entry.

  18. I enjoyed reading your review, which speaks the truth of your mind about the novel. But I doubt I’ll pick this one up. The idea about polygamy doesn’t interest me, not to mention the slowness as a result of the split structure.

  19. It is no one’s place to pass judgment on another, be it upon a person, a religious belief, or otherwise. Being human, however, it is difficult not to have thoughts on subjects of intrigue. Isn’t it that of which we do not have full knowledge or understanding that we are so quick to judge?

    I do believe in individual freedoms, including being free to have faith in the doctrine of one’s choosing. Freedom is a tricky thing, though. One of your “rights” may well impede upon and take away one of my own. Some very simple examples would be an individual’s right to smoke a cigarette on a park bench. Being a non-smoker, my right to enjoy the fresh air on the other end of the same park bench has been taken away. My neighbor enjoys his right to rev up continuously, over and over again, his loud un-muffled motorcycle engine, as well as competing with the revving of his cycle gang’s engines at any time of the day or night. His right impedes my right to a restful night’s sleep or an afternoon nap while recuperating from surgery. Simple examples, indeed, but I trust the point is made.

    This is the price we pay for our freedoms. A veteran once said he did not agree with a certain “freedom” another citizen wanted, but would fight to the death for the citizen to have that freedom.

    And so I do believe in religious freedom and the practices in the pursuit thereof. Who are we to judge what is deemed just and appropriate by believers of a faith? Some may question the price that freedom has on the unsuspecting children. Of course, the youngsters being raised in a commune of sorts would be none the wiser, living in an environment of chosen harmony among its residents. Any of us would be brainwashed, in a manner of speaking, to the ways of our parents – especially in our belief system.

    This thought leads to the young boys who are excommunicated. Could it be true they are left by the wayside for minor infractions or to unbalance the man/woman ratio to allow for remaining men to engage in bountiful polygamist marriage?

    About theocracy and religious conviction: why is it, seemingly among the world’s religions, that doctrines may come and go as seen fit for the present time? Why are some truths taken literally and others figuratively? If the doctrine of polygamy was sanctioned by the Mormon God, why was not in the golden plates found by Joseph Smith? If a god is all-knowing, throughout all time, space, and eternity, would he then not have had a plan from the beginning? Why would there be Revelations to bring about change? Why is the word of God brought to mankind via a human prophet, be it Jesus, Moses, Muhammad, or Joseph? As a human, supposedly marred with flaws, fallibility, and sin, is he able to be entrusted to serve such an important task? Would entrusting the passage of Revelations to a man not naturally succumb to the similar fall of man?

    Did God not see the earth would one day become too populated to properly house and feed its people? If polygamy is for the purpose of creating a kingdom, has that need not been met? When Abraham was told to go forth and multiply, was it not a time in the world’s history that man’s numbers were far less than the billions they are today?

    Back to the lost boys and unfair treatment. The thing I find most unfair, if it were true, is the collection of funds via welfare from the government. Could it be true polygamist communities collect WIC or welfare checks for the support of its children? That is certainly an area difficult not to pass judgment. How could a godly man allow such an immoral injustice to society? How does the conscience work?

    My stance on the issue is this. So long as I can be available and help a male or female teen, a child, a woman, or any other member who finds himself no longer in the realm of belief or obligation to his religion in a time of need, and I do not, as a taxpayer, have to support a population that is not self-supporting, I remain another humble human who has questions, but cannot pass judgment on another man’s religion and feel he has the right to choose it.

    ~A stay-at-home homeschooling mother who wishes to educate her children on all the world’s religions.

  20. Although I am very steadfast in my faith, I am also always very interested and curious about other religions and the cultures assoicated with those religions. My view is that as long as someone believes in doing good unto others, strives to live their life to make the world a better place, and possesses a sound set of morals and values, who am I to judge that person or group of people? The world is never going to agree on religious beliefs but we can all strive to be tolerant and understanding of those with different traditions or beliefs other than our own.

  21. I’d love to read this title. I grew up modern day LDS, but it’s certainly true that the early prophets of the church preached polygamy. I’m no longer a Mormon, found Jesus a couple of years ago :)! But this is certainly an aspect of LDS history that is swept under the rug, as it would indicate the church prophets are false prophets rather than true ones following the LDS removal of this doctrine from their modern creed.

  22. I have no problem with how others live or there religious views, I actually find how others live very intreging and even though I couldn’t imagine living a life with a husband who has multiple wives, I think it would be a great experience to read about it and maybe open my mind a bit more. Thanks for entering me.

  23. I dont really agree with polygomy for the fact that very young girls are married to a man 3 times her age. Its ridiculous. I know everyone has their own religion and their own belief but is is really necessary to have more than one wife?

  24. Wonderful post, I’ve heard about this book before.
    I read Shattered Dreams: My Life as a Polygamist’s Wife by Irene Spencer and it was an amazing book. I didnt know much about polygamy until I read it, and I found it to be a moving and inspiring memoir. I dont agree with Polygamy, but I have much repsect for the survivors who find thier way out of it.

  25. […] who eventually becomes the third wife of the Prophet Muhammad.  At the beginning I was reminded of The 19th Wife because of the common themes of plural marriage and being married to a prophet.  The 19th Wife and […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Blog at WordPress.com.
Entries and comments feeds.

%d bloggers like this: