This book is a combination of two stories. The first – and larger – story is that of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Mormon prophet Brigham Young, in the late 1800s. The second story is that of Jordon Scott, a former member of a modern day polygamist cult, whose father was supposedly killed by his own 19th wife, Jordan’s mother. Sound confusing? It’s really not!
The structure of the story IS unusual though. Not only are the two stories intertwined, but additional “sources” are scattered throughout the book: excerpts from memoirs, Wikipedia entries, letters, etc.
I really enjoyed his book. It is well written and caught my attention very quickly. I couldn’t wait to find out what happened to each of the characters as the story progressed. I especially liked the subtle way that the author linked the two stories to each other. In both cases the author just "jumps into" the story without giving the reader any background. At times I felt a bit confused, like maybe I had missed some vital piece of information, but I hadn't; the author basically brings you along and provides info through the narrative, rather than through long, expository paragraphs. It works well, once you get used to it.
The structure did cause me some difficulty though. I loved the way the stories and “sources” were intertwined – the problem for me was what to believe is true. Since I know very little about the history of the Mormon Church I couldn’t judge the validity of the events (historical and personal) in the Ann Eliza portion of the book. The format of the book leads the reader to treat this book as more “history” and less “historical fiction” in my opinion. The author does clarify his intentions in the Afterword but I’m not sure this is enough.
Rather than trolling the internet looking for answers I decided to email another blogger who I know is a Mormon (also known as Latter Day Saints, or LDS). Luckily for me she was also reading this book AND she was willing to answer my questions. Below are a few excerpts from our email exchange.
Thank you for your willingness to help! I'm so glad you're reading this too. It will make it much easier to discuss. ... As far as the LDS go, I know just about nothing - hence my questions. ... I am really enjoying the writing and the stories so far. My questions have to do with the factual basis of the Ann Eliza story. What is the LDS view of her and does it match up with her representation in the book? Do you know if the "facts" about her parents and their lives are based in truth? I know that the "documents" he presents are not real but as I understand it, they are meant to represent the type of documents you could find. Do they seem to you to present accurate information, or do they contradict what you know of LDS history? I'm thinking specifically of Chauncey Webb - as you read, I'd like to hear your thoughts on him.
Also, I understand that the LDS are against plural marriage now. Did they give a reason for their change in belief? Since their current stand is in contradiction to their previous one, how is this explained?
When my book club read The Da Vinci Code a while back it caused HUGE drama in our group. The non-Catholic members believed basically everything Dan Brown said about the Catholic Church while the Catholic members hated the book just on principle. Having a Catholic background ... I was able to point out the difference between facts and theories, truth and sensationalism, in the book. My concern in reading The 19th Wife is that due to my lack of knowledge about LDS, I could end up believing things that are not true just like the gals in my book club did. See my dilemma?!
Again, thanks for agreeing to help me out with this. I look forward to comparing notes with you!
To tell you the truth, church history is really, really broad! I myself am ignorant of much of its detailed background. The LDS church has many scholars that make their careers studying church history. I'm afraid I don't have any good answers for your questions.Again, these are just excerpts from the emails we exchanged, but I think you get the general idea.
A full biography of Brigham Young can be found here. I have to tell you the truth that I'm just as ignorant about Eliza Ann as you are. I searched and searched and could not find any statement about the LDS view of Eliza Ann Young.
I also searched for information about her parents but couldn't find anything beyond a few basic, he was a blacksmith, etc. The LDS church has preserved all of its history and is available in its archives. They are currently digitizing their documents (a decade long project), but unfortunately it makes it hard to find info online. No news is good news?
Here are some links for you about the church's current view of polygamy:
Background of polygamy and is current view
Interview with Gordon B. Hinckley, past president and prophet
Hmm . . . I'm thinking I should be asking as many questions as you!
If you’d like to read Natasha’s review of this book click here. I’m grateful to Natasha for her willingness to answer my questions – thank you!
I must say, I really did enjoy this book. I’ve already recommended it to a number of people. But I do caution you to read it as a work of fiction, not as historical fact. It will make you – and everyone you discuss it with – much happier.
Thank you to TLC Book Blog Tours for the chance to review this book! To read other reviews and also thoughts from the author be sure to check out the other blog stops scheduled for this month.
Wednesday, Oct. 15th: Maw Books
Friday, Oct. 17th: Reading, ‘Riting, and Retirement
Monday, Oct. 20th: She Is Too Fond Of Books
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
Tuesday, Oct. 28th: Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Thursday, Oct. 30th: Books on the Brain
Monday, Nov. 3rd: The Cottage Nest
Tuesday, Nov. 4th: B&B ex libris
Wednesday, Nov. 5th: Anniegirl1138
Thursday, Nov. 6th: The Tome Traveler
Friday, Nov. 7th: Educating Petunia
Monday, Nov. 10th: The Literate Housewife
Wednesday, Nov. 12th: Diary of an Eccentric