This book is a fictional account of several people connected to the practice of polygamy. Fictional is in italics, because I know there will be some people convinced that the things that happen in this book are actually true, which they aren’t, although they are based in reality.
If you didn’t know, or you’ve been living under a rock for the past several years, polygamy has become an issue again the United States. A few years ago a polygamist compound was raided in Texas and about 400 children were taken into custody. Plus we also have the shows Sister Wives and Big Love to bring polygamy into the mainstream media.
You might be asking, “What’s the big deal?” Well, the big deal is that in the United States people have religious freedom, but some of those religious practices can be illegal or at the very least unethical. That is what the big deal is. No doubt Ebershoff has chosen this time in history to write his book because of how much media attention United States polygamy is getting.
I want to stress here the difference in something. You may be aware that there are many sects to many religions, for example: German Baptists, Primitive Baptists, Southern Baptists, etc., but many people are not so aware that there are several sects of Mormonism. The largest part is of course The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, which does not practice polygamy, but there are other smaller sects of Mormonism that do. The sects don’t meet up for conventions or anything they are completely different religions, which happened to branch off of one religion.
This book is about a sect that broke off, the history of how it all started, and where the religions are today but through a fictional story. There are some characters in the book who were real-life people, but they did not actually do or say all of the things in this book.
The reader starts out with a murder. A husband sits at his computer playing poker and chatting with random women when his wife comes into the room, his 19th wife. This is the last thing he knows because number nineteen murders him with his own gun.
Jordan is a young man living in California. One day while in the library, Jordan sees something disturbing on the internet, it’s his mother’s picture. She was arrested for the murder of her husband. Jordan is confused because he knows his mother wouldn’t do something like that. He needs to see her, so he hops in the van where he lives with his dog and drives out to Utah.
He finds his mother in the local jail. What she says confuses him. Nothing adds up.
The story is interspersed with fictional stories of early pioneers that led to the break off of this particular sect of polygamous Mormonism. I’m not sure if the stories are entirely fictional or are based on scanty facts, but some of the characters are interesting.
There are also documents of requests and denials stuck in the book here and there. These are not real, the author even admits in his afterwords that they aren’t real.
Jordan does some sleuthing out in Utah. He visits his old home, which to him is a nightmare. Things happened there that he would like to forget. When he was only fourteen years old he was kicked out for holding hands with his stepsister. Extreme? Yes, but this has been known to happen. Although, Jordan’s story isn’t true, there have been plenty of boys who are kicked out of the sects, who are then called Lost Boys. Their lives are not easy.
Jordan soon finds many more twists and ravels in the story than he ever thought existed.
What I liked: The story was a good story. Jordan is a likable character and so are the people he meets along the way. He has genuine concerns and character traits. Jordan has a lot to deal with being a Lost Boy and one more thing is added on his plate.
I like the history interspersed within the book. The historical accounts within the book are made up by the author, but based on real events and real documents, which is a nice look. The inner thought processes of these people can never be known, but it is interesting to have a suggestion as to what they could have been thinking.
I liked how the book was not derogatory of either church mentioned in the book. The author never came out and condemned either one or saying that their practices were evil. This wasn’t a slander. It was just a creative license.
The book was well-written in my opinion. When the reader is flashed back to the 1800s, Ebershoff does an excellent job at trying to recreate that time period and way of life.
What I didn’t like: I don’t like how fiction is represented as truth in this book. There are several documents created in the book that appear as they would if they were real, but they’re not, and they cast a negative light on current people.
There actually is another book called The Nineteenth Wife, it was written by Eliza Ann Young. She was labeled Brigham Young’s 19th wife. She also divorced him and the trial was very public. Her tale contains a lot which may or may not be true and many people lean towards it not being true. I’m sure some of it’s true. I don’t think she would have risked her reputation to publish a bunch of lies, but who knows maybe she did.
I do know that polygamy is not a pleasant thing for women to live and although I think Eliza Ann may have embellished parts of her story I do feel sorry for her. Who would want to share their husband? Nobody that I know. I am not a fan of the practice of polygamy. For some people it works out really great, but the stories that get out are the ones about how it doesn’t work out so well. I’ve read several memoirs of escapees belonging to the Warren Jeffs sect, and let me tell you, those people went through some terrible stuff. Their lives were absolutely awful.
The text of The Nineteenth Wife, contained within this book is not really the actual text. It’s the author’s own spin on it, so don’t think you’re reading two books, when you’re only really reading one. The journal of Brigham Young included in the book is also not the real thing, sorry to disappoint. Honestly, I just don’t like how this guy places forth his material like it’s the actual thing. It made for an interesting book, but it kinds of rubs me the wrong way.
I didn’t like how the story of Jordan was broken up with the stories of several other people. It’s all interesting. Each person on their own, could more than enough, compensate for a great fictional work. In my opinion there wasn’t enough of Jordan’s story in the book. He didn’t do a lot. Sure there was a beginning, a middle and an end, but there could have been more middle. I think Ebershoff is talented enough that he could have written the entire book about Jordan and it would have been just fine.
I’m kind of at war with myself whether as to whether I really like the insertions of the other characters or not. At some points I enjoyed the history of this story, it’s not true history, but more of a pseudo history.
I don’t like Jordan’s attitudes toward his religion and other religions. He has to have troubles and internal struggles, but it seems like he has a few too many to deal with.
I don’t like how many times the F-word is in this book. I am not a fan of the F-word. I think used as an interjection here and there, it’s fine in literature, but if the word appears anymore than two or three times per chapter, it’s just overkill and crude. I do know there are people who actually talk like that, but come on, let’s have some civility people.
The author seemed to be going on a lot of historical conjecture when writing this book. There were many events and portrayals that were very accurate, but then there were instances in which the author’s story would support the historical conjecture rather than the facts, but that is a dilemma within itself. A person can never know exactly what went on in the past unless he or she were actually there. Sure you could have records, pictures, or even cave paintings, but recorded history is often much different from actual history. If you’ve ever heard the phrase ‘history is written by the winners’ then you might understand what I’m talking about. History is something that can be distorted through different eyes. No one account may be the true account.
I also expected a lot more explanation of current polygamy to be in the book. There really wasn’t. It just wasn’t there. I don’t know if the author was trying to be sensitive or what, but the awful things the author mentions in his book about current-day polygamy are skin-deep compared to some of the actual things that have happened and went on within the past few years. I guess it was a way for him to stay fairly neutral, but if you really want to know about conditions of current polygamist groups there are better books to read and you can also just watch TLC now and see Kody Brown and his family.
Overall, the book is long, be prepared for several days of reading, I wouldn’t pay above ten dollars for it though. If you are LDS you might be offended by some of the things in the book and if somehow you happen to be a polygamist reading this book, you’re really not going to like it. This book is really for the masses and not for the people involved in the actual struggle. If you don’t belong to any of the religions mentioned in the book, the book is a good way, but not completely accurate way, to learn about the struggles that are still going on today between sects.