Tuesday, November 11, 2008

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (a review)

The 19th Wife by David EbershoffThe 19th Wife by David Ebershoff is a fascinating fictional account of both the origins of plural marriage in the Mormon faith and a present-day incarnation of this practice among fundamentalist Mormons. The novel is divided into two stories: the first of Brigham Young’s nineteenth wife, Ann Eliza Young (written in the form of a memoir) and the second of a contemporary nineteenth wife who has been arrested for the murder of her husband (written from the point of view of her son). However, this novel is actually more complex than that as it also contains diary excerpts, newspaper clippings, academic papers, letters, emails and more. In less capable hands, this might have made for a disjointed and unwieldy mess, but Ebershoff masterfully weaves all these pieces together to create an extraordinary tale, keeping each voice distinct and completely believable. Although the two stories don’t connect in any traditional sense, Eliza’s story provides backdrop and context for the modern one, as well as being an amazing piece of historical reconstruction. (As other reviewers have noted, I had to keep reminding myself that this was fiction!) My only criticism is that the resolution of the modern mystery is a little too pat, but otherwise I have to agree with one of the characters who says: “All speculation and imagination,* yet so true, I know, so true” (p. 496). I feel like Ebershoff has really captured the essence of the realities he writes about.

This was one of my favourite books in 2008.

To read other reviews of this book, visit these blogs:
Age 30+... A Lifetime of BooksA High and Hidden Placeanniegirl1138A Writer’s PenBibliographingBooks on the BrainCaribousmomFarm Lane BooksFirefly’s Book BlogIt’s All About BooksLiterary LicenseMaw BooksPresenting LenoreReading and RuminationsReading, Writing and RetirementSadie-Jean’s Book BlogShe Is Too Fond of BooksS. Krishna’s BooksThe Novel WordThe Printed Page

To read guest posts by the author, visit these blogs:
Diary of an EccentricIt’s All About BooksReading, Writing and Retirement

To read interviews with the author, visit these blogs:
Maw Book BlogMusings of a Bookish KittyShe Is Too Fond of BooksWendi’s Book Corner

You can read Wife No. 19 by Ann Eliza Young online.

Thank you to the author and Random House for sending me this book to review.


This is the first book I review for the LibraryThing Author Challenge.


*And lots of research, obviously!

14 comments:

  1. I have this and can't wait to read it!

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  2. This book has caught my eye a month or two ago. Great review...now I want to read it more!

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  3. Great review, Avis. So you didn't feel like there was too much going on in this book?

    Shana
    Literarily

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  4. What a great review. Thanks for this recommendation...now if i can only win a copy of this book or get it as a gift! LOL

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  5. I absolutely loved this book! I'm still talking about it to friends and relatives. :)

    Love your review, and thanks for linking to my interview!

    Take care ~ Wendi

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  6. Great review, Avis. I agree; I think the author did a masterful job of bringing this book together the way he did.

    Thank you for linking my review! I linked yours to mine as well. :-)

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  7. I hope you enjoy it, Nicole. It's definitely one of my favourites this year and I'm looking forward to reading his other novels too.

    Jo-jo, I highly recommend it!

    Kathy, thank you so much!

    Shana, not at all. I was amazed at how well put together this book was, considering the two story lines and the multiple "sources" he incorporates into it. I don't think I've ever read a novel where the voices of each first-person narration were so unique.

    Serena, I hope you can get your hands on it. Definitely put it on your holiday wish list if you don't manage to get it before then!

    Thanks, Wendi, and you're very welcome!

    Thanks for linking to my review, Literary Feline! I was glad to discover your blog via this book!

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  8. Sorry it's taken me so long to read your review. I've been so swamped and behind in blog reading.

    I'm glad you enjoyed the book, and I agree that it was complex. That was the beauty of it, in my opinion. Thanks for linking to my blog!

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  9. No need to apologize, Anna! I'm desperately behind on my blog reading and commenting (again), so I totally understand! I just ordered both of David's earlier novels as a Christmas gift to myself! (Whoo-hoo!)

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  10. I can't wait to hear what you think of them!

    I'm catching up slowly, but surely. The war challenge blog Serena and I launched on Monday has taken up a lot of time.

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  11. I catch up just to fall behind again...

    I saw your post about the war challenge and I want to join! (I'm hoping to post about that this week at some point.)

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  12. That's so great!!! We'd love to have you on board!!

    --Anna
    Diary of an Eccentric

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  13. Unfortunately, the parallel, modern thread fails in comparison. I think I understand Ebershoff's motive to demonstrate that such religious fanaticism still exists today; but, the murder mystery involving an excommunicated member of the Firsts trying to clear his mother's name accused of murdering her husband reads more like pulp fiction. The modern characters, imagind by Ebershoff are cardboard cutouts compared to the actual historic figures involved in the early years of the Mormon church.

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