The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff

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The 19th Wife is based around a polygamous Mormon sect. The book is split into two distinctive parts. The first begins in 1875 and follows Ann Eliza Young, the nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, the second Prophet of the Mormon Church. Unsatisfied with his treatment of her, she separates from him, and then leads a crusade to end polygamy in America.

The second is basically a murder mystery. Twenty-year-old Jordan discovers that his father has been murdered, and his mother is accused of shooting him. Jordan was expelled from the  Mormon sect at the age of fourteen, when he was discovered holding hands with one of his step-sisters. He returns to Utah to visit his mother in jail, and begins to uncover many secrets within his polygamous family.

Other than the theme of polygamy there was nothing to link the two stories; as the book is a whopping 606 pages long, I think that it could have benefited from being split in two separate books. The writing styles were very different, and I think they will appeal to different people. I much preferred the modern, murder mystery, as it had more pace and intrigue. The character of Jordan was well drawn, and I had lots of empathy for him. The ending was reasonably satisfying, and this section works well as a thriller with a twist.

I found the historical section to be quite dry, and by the end of the book I had lost interest in it. The large number of footnotes, and other historical references were distracting, and it was difficult to know which sections were factually accurate, and which were fiction. The characters became lost in the data, and it became more like a text book than a novel.

Overall, there was a lot of interesting information about life within a polygamous family, but it lacked that special spark.

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  1. Framed says:

    At least this is one book I won’t have to add to my TBR pile. I have read a couple of novels that include polygamy that were pretty good, but overall it’s not a subect I’m drawn to know more about.

  2. Blodeuedd says:

    I just read about this book when i looked up books with great reviews, maybe I should give it a go :D

  3. Simon S says:

    I just finished this on friday and thought it wasnt bad at all, have reviewed it on my blog but agree should have really been two different books. I will be cracking on with The Bolter next but your review has worried me a it on that one!


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