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The 19th Wife: A Novel Hardcover – Deckle Edge, August 5, 2008

3.9 out of 5 stars 610 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. This sweeping epic is a compelling and original work set in 1875, when one woman attempts to rid America of polygamy. Ebershoff intertwines his tale with that of a 20th-century murder mystery in Utah, allowing the two stories to twist and turn into a marvelous literary experience. With such a sprawling tale to relate, a few narrators (Kimberly Farr, Rebecca Lowman, Arthur Morey and Daniel Passer) divide up the roles and deliver a solid, professional reading, true to Ebershoffs prose. A Random House hardcover (Reviews, June 23). (Sept.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From The New Yorker

This ambitious third novel tells two parallel stories of polygamy. The first recounts Brigham Young's expulsion of one of his wives, Ann Eliza, from the Mormon Church; the second is a modern-day murder mystery set in a polygamous compound in Utah. Unfolding through an impressive variety of narrative forms—Wikipedia entries, academic research papers, newspaper opinion pieces—the stories include fascinating historical details. We are told, for instance, of Brigham Young's ban on dramas that romanticized monogamous love at his community theatre; as one of Young's followers says, "I ain't sitting through no play where a man makes such a cussed fuss over one woman." Ebershoff demonstrates abundant virtuosity, as he convincingly inhabits the voices of both a nineteenth-century Mormon wife and a contemporary gay youth excommunicated from the church, while also managing to say something about the mysterious power of faith.
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This Book Is Bound with "Deckle Edge" Paper
You may have noticed that some of our books are identified as "deckle edge" in the title. Deckle edge books are bound with pages that are made to resemble handmade paper by applying a frayed texture to the edges. Deckle edge is an ornamental feature designed to set certain titles apart from books with machine-cut pages. See a larger image.

Product Details

  • Hardcover: 514 pages
  • Publisher: Random House; 1st edition (August 5, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1400063973
  • ISBN-13: 978-1400063970
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (610 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #484,017 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
When I heard what this novel was about, I immediately wanted to read it. The reason is that I've been so intrigued by news accounts of groups like the polygamous fundamentalists featured in this novel. For me, it was like a window into another world.

The story opens with 20-year-old Jordan Scott reading the news online. He sees a photo of a woman being placed into a police car and suddenly realizes that it's his mother! He hasn't seen her since she and his father left him by the side of the highway with $17 dollars in his pocket at the age of 14. You see, Jordan was raised in Utah in a polygamous Mormon sect--an extremist offshoot of the contemporary Mormon Church. Jordan's mom was #19 of his dad's 25 or so wives, and Jordan was raised with about 100 siblings. It's a very different upbringing. Sadly, at the age of 14, Jordan was excommunicated for a non-existent offence, and cast out from his home, family, and the life he'd known. But he's a survivor, and he's made a life for himself in LA.

Seeing that his mother has been arrested for the murder of his father, Jordan realizes that he must return home and face his past. He goes to visit his mother in jail, and she tells him, "I didn't do it!" and begs for his help. With all the conflicted feelings you would imagine, Jordan begins his own investigation into the murder case, and for the first time in years has contact with his former life. Despite the pain this sometimes brings him, he makes friends along the way, and they're a fascinating and diverse group of allies.

This contemporary murder mystery would be more than enough story for your average novel, but in this case, it's only half of it. For the chapters about Jordan and the murder mystery alternate with another story.
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Format: Hardcover
Last April, 533 women and children were removed from the Yearn for Zion Ranch of the Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints in west Texas. Author David Ebershoff must have found this an eerie coincidence with his polygamy rich novel "The 19th Wife" being prepped by Random House for an August release.

Ebershoff, author of "The Danish Girl," has composed an often brilliant novel consisting of two stories: the epic saga of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young, who almost single handedly brought about the end of polygamy in America; and a story of a modern day plural wife accused of murder, and her excommunicated gay son determined to prove her innocence.

The story of Ann Eliza is a slice of nearly forgotten American history, thoroughly researched and detailed. "The 19th Wife" illustrates the evils of religious tyranny and how "celestial marriage" was a blasphemous rationalization of adultery. Great pains have been taken to depict the rise and fal of polygamy withing the Mormon church; from portraits of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, to testimonials from a wide assortment of Ann Eliza's friends, family and detractors. These characters are indelibly drawn and leap from the page into our memory. Scenes of the great western expansion and the trek of European immigrants to Utah remain vivid long after reading them.

I'll not provide a summary of the second story other than to say it too deals with the ill effects of polygamy, is set in a community not unlike Year for Zion Ranch, and features a truly memorable gay hero in Jordan Scott.
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Format: Hardcover
In 1875 Ann Eliza Young, the purported wife of Mormon leader Brigham Young, published her memoirs. A year earlier she had left her husband, filed for divorce, fled Utah and had embarked on a nationwide lecture tour fiercely denouncing the evils of polygamy.

Present day California, Jordan Scott, is a 20 year old "lost boy" expelled from the polygamous First Latter Day Saints community of Mesadale, Utah, by the Prophet. Browsing the St. George Register online he is stunned to see his mother on the front page accused on murdering his father, a prominent First. An open chat page on the dead man's computer identifies his murderer, his 19th wife....Jordan's mother.

It took a few false starts before I got into the rhythm of The 19th Wife. Moving from Anne Eliza's life story and history of the westward migration of the Mormons, to present day Utah where Jordan struggles to understand what might have happened, the storyline moves back and forth slowly drawing the reader into the story. Jordan must return to Mesadale and try to uncover the truth of his father's murder and possibly free his mother from jail. Anne Eliza chronicles her family's conversion to Mormonism, their westward migration, the persecution of the sect and their expulsion into the inhospitable west. Jordan has to return to Mesadale where he is unsure who, if anyone can be trusted and where he is watched and shunned at every turn.

As Jordan moves closer to the truth his path intersects with Ann Eliza's story and his life is also in danger. Help from an unexpected source offers him safety, but can it be trusted? David Ebershoff has crafted a masterful, though somewhat twisted tale of family life. Through extensive research he is able to portray the inner workings of a closed society and the corruption of power. This kept me engrossed from beginning to the much unexpected end.
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