The 19th Wife (2008): David Ebershoff


I first read this book several years ago, before I started this blog, and although I remember enjoying it immensely, I couldn’t remember the details. It’s Ebershoff’s third novel and focuses on the practice of polygamy in the Mormon church by interweaving the stories of two women, separated by more than a century. One is Ann Eliza Young, the apostate former (nineteenth) wife of the early Mormon leader Brigham Young. Her lectures and writings, represented here by a fictional autobiography, helped to expose the reality of plural marriage and, ultimately, to abolish it in mainstream Mormon faith. In the present day, we meet BeckyLyn Scott, a member of a breakaway fundamentalist sect which preserves the practice of polygamy. BeckyLyn’s husband has been shot dead in his basement den and she, his nineteenth wife, has been arrested for murder. Her son Jordan, expelled from the community as a teenager, comes to believe that BeckyLyn is innocent; but how can he prove it? The stories of these two women intertwine in an absorbing tale of plural marriage, faith and family. To make matters even more interesting, events since the book’s publication have focused international attention on the community that must surely have inspired Ebershoff’s fictional Mesadale.

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