Monday Book Talk: “The 19th Wife,” by David Ebershoff – TLC Book Tour AND GIVEAWAY

This review is part of a virtual blog tour hosted by TLC Book Tours in connection with the paperback release of The 19th Wife. Thanks to Lisa of TLC for arranging for me to obtain a copy of the novel (in hardcover) for review.

Author David Ebershoff is also on a “real” book tour to promote the paperback release. He will be in the Los Angeles area on Monday, June 22, reading and signing books at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. I’m planning to attend the reading, and will tell you all about it next week! Trish from Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin’? met him when his tour came to her area –  here’s her story about that.

The 19th Wife: A Novel by David EbershoffThe 19th Wife: A Novel
David Ebershoff
Random House, 2008 (hardcover) (ISBN 1400063973 / 9781400063970)
Fiction (historical), 514 pages

First sentence: “In the one year since I renounced my Mormon faith, and set out to tell the nation the truth about American polygamy, many people have wondered why I ever agreed to become a plural wife.”

Random clip: “The thing about Heber is that I could never quite tell what he wanted – my mom out of jail or me out of his office. ‘Come on,’ I said. ‘Not everyone goes around lying.'” (page 137)

Book description: The 19th Wife combines epic historical fiction with a modern murder mystery to create a novel of literary suspense.

It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of a family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how a young woman became a plural wife.

Soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death.

And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love and faith.

Comments: It’s been awhile since I read a 500-plus-page book that wasn’t written by J.K. Rowling, so I wanted to get an early start on reading The 19th Wife for this blog tour, just in case it took awhile. I needn’t have worried – this was a very fast-moving 500 pages, in more ways than one. David Ebershoff has ambitiously blended historical fiction, murder mystery, and social commentary in interwoven stories of plural marriages divided by over a century – and the two primary stories actually are connected, although the connection isn’t apparent until well into the novel.

I was immediately pulled into Jordan Scott’s present-day story, and found his narrative voice fully believable. 20-year-old Jordan was born and raised with a hundred siblings in a small Utah town where the illegal practice of polygamy has never ended, but he was excommunicated and exiled from the community at the age of fourteen. However, when he gets a phone call telling him that his mother has been arrested for murdering his father, there’s no way he can’t go back home and try to figure out what really happened.

Jordan’s story is woven between a story of the founding prophets of the Mormon (Latter-day Saints, or LDS) Church, Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, and one of its first families, the Webbs. Their daughter Ann Eliza would eventually marry Brigham Young – as would many other women. The practice of “celestial” or “plural marriage” was one of the things that truly set the Mormons apart – in order to ensure salvation and attaining heaven, men were expected to have multiple wives, at the same time. These marriages were strictly religious ceremonies – while the practice was outside the law, the law turned a blind eye to such things in the Utah Territory, most of which was in the hands of Mormons anyway.

Ann Eliza and Jordan’s mother have one thing in common – they’re both 19th wives. Ebershoff drew and expanded on Ann Eliza’s own memoir, Wife No. 19, in the historical portion of the novel. This memoir was instrumental in both stirring up legal action against polygamous marriages and in the LDS Church’s renunciation of the “celestial marriage” doctrine. However, there were some Mormons who vehemently disagreed with this change, since it went against the teachings of the founding prophets, and they splintered away from their church. Some of them still live in small, remote towns in the Southwest where they continue to practice plural marriage today…and Jordan comes from one of those towns.

I had a hard time stepping away from The 19th Wife – it completely pulled me in, and I grabbed every available chunk of time to read it. At first I thought I’d be more interested in the murder mystery, largely because I found Jordan’s voice so compelling, but as it happened, the historical novel was equally fascinating – and Ann Eliza was a compelling narrator too. I was very impressed by Ebershoff’s use of distinct narrative voices and unconventional techniques – facsimile historical documents, letters, and Wikipedia pages are all part of the story. The novel as a whole is ripped-from-the-headlines contemporary in its themes, with a page-turning plot and vivid, memorable characters. It’s a thought-provoker and would make for excellent book-club discussion.

(Since I made reference to some bad reading timing in my review of The Laws of Harmony last week, I feel like I should mention that this was the book I read just before that one.)

Rating: 4.25/5

Buy The 19th Wife at

Stops on the TLC Blog Tour for The 19th Wife:
Monday, May 18:   Hey, Lady!  Whatcha Readin’?
Wednesday, May 20th:  A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
Thursday, May 21st:  Becky’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, May 26th:  Book Nut
Tuesday, June 2nd:  Biblioaddict
Thursday, June 4th:  A Life in Books
Friday, June 5th:  Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Monday, June 8th:  Live and Let Di
Tuesday, June 9th:  Ramya’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, June 10th:  As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves
Thursday, June 11th:  A Novel Menagerie
Tuesday, June 16th:  The Book Faery Reviews
Wednesday, June 17th:  Shelf Life
Friday, June 19th:  In the Shadow of Mt. TBR

*** Is your curiosity piqued? Want to read The 19th Wife for yourself? I’m giving away a copy of the new paperback edition! To enter, please leave a relevant comment on this post – tell me why you’d like to read the book, or mention something about the review, and please include your e-mail address. Comments without an e-mail address, or that say nothing more than “please enter me,” will NOT count as giveaway entries! The giveaway is open until Friday, June 26.***

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  1. I enjoy reading historical fiction and murder mysteries. I would also like to learn more about the Mormon Church and polygamy. I know so little about it. This book sounds really good! Thank you for the giveaway!
    Carol M
    mittens0831 AT

  2. Ever since I read UNDER THE BANNER OF HEAVEN by Jon Krakauer, I've been interested in Mormanism. I also read a lot of historical fiction and mysteries. THE 19TH WIFE intrigues me because it pulls all these interests together – sounds perfect for me. Also, everything I've heard about this book has been positive. Thanks for the chance to win a copy!

    geebee.reads AT gmail DOT com

  3. This way of life is so interesting, probably because it is so foreign to most of us. I've heard people knock it as being an unhealthy environment for kids to grow up in, but I actually think that aside from the practice of marrying young girls that you may be closely related to (okay, granted, that's a big aside!) kids would do quite well in this environment. They are constantly surrounded by their siblings and watched over by other family members-very much an "it takes a village" approach which I think is often lacking in today's society.

  4. I've started a spreadsheet for the giveaway entries – keep 'em coming, folks!

    Vanessa (ChefDruck) – I found your full-length review and am adding the link here:

    Chefdruck Reviews | Book Review: The Nineteenth Wide by David Ebershoff


    Dreamybee – I see your point, and I think that there probably are some polygamist families that work that way. But based on my limited reading on the topic, I suspect they're the exception. If the wives get competitive with one another, they're looking out for themselves and MAYBE their own kids, never mind anyone else's – and some of these families are HUGE, with dozens of children living in the same house.

    I'm reviewing another book on this topic later this week which talks more about those aspects of polygamist family life.

  5. I just finished reading Under the Banner of Heaven a few weeks ago and I loved it (quite different from Into thin Air but equally interesting and well written). I'm very interested in the history of Mormonism and the LDS church (particularly the fundamentalists). I find it fascinating that such a new and strangely formed religion has taken such a strong hold in the US and the rest of North America.
    Thank you for the wonderful and thought provoking giveaway, please enter me!


  6. Kathy (Bermudaonion) – Thanks! I had no idea I'd read it so quickly. I'm going to use that as an argument to anyone intimidated by the length :-).

  7. i would like to read this because it seems as if it draws you into the story and you are actually there minsthins at optonline dot net

  8. i am still abit perplexed on the mormon religion and it off sects, even so, i am a big fan of big love. maybe this book will shed some light on it.

  9. enjoy historical fiction and non-fiction and it sounds like this book combines both by bringing in the story of Ann Eliza Young into the book along with the current character. How these women are treated in their religion in this day and age is just so unbelievable to me.
    (oops! deleted original because I forgot email addy)


  10. I have read a number of books about the different practices of various faiths and find it extremely interesting! This sounds like another good book in that category!

  11. The lifestyle of polygamy is something fascinating and different yet interesting at the same time – this book sounds excellent
    msboatgal at

  12. I could not imagine living as one of many wives. I would like to see if this books gives me insight into why a woman would choose to do this.
    1bmore @ gmail . com

  13. Since Big Love on HBO, I am totally fascinated with polygamy and the Mormon Lifestyle, so I would enjoy reading this book.

    madamerkf at aol dot com

  14. Mary De
    zenrei57 (at) hotmail (dot) com

    Actually, I've heard a lot of good things about the 19th wife and have been eager to read it! The reason is that we have many Mormons in my area and I've always been curious about polygamy and how people emotionally adapt to such.

  15. I would love to read this. Historical fiction is one of my favorite genres (when it's done right).

  16. I'd like to read the book because it resonates something personal in me. My mother's side of the family are Mormon and early pioneers of Utah. I have a history of polygamy in the family (you should see the family tree), and I would love to read about that way of life beyond the annals of my own family history. Additionally, Brigham Young played an important role in my early family.


  17. Although I have limited knowledge regarding the practice of polygamy, I am interested in reading this both from the historical and now. sharonaquilino(at)hotmail(dot)com

  18. I am glad you enjoyed The 19th Wife so much, Florinda. It was such an interesting book. I was quite taken with it too. I had never heard of Ann Eliza before reading this book and I ended up doing quite a bit of research on her after finishing the novel.

    No need to enter me in the giveaway. 🙂

  19. I've been wanting to read this book since it was first released in hardcover. It just sounds fascinating to me. I admit that I don't have a lot of knowledge or understanding of the Mormon faith and don't understand polygamy myself, but I'd certainly like to learn more about it. This book sounds like such a fabulous read!

    melacan at hotmail dto com

  20. I don't really believe in polygamy, and think it is wrong. But I would still be very interested in reading this book. Please enter me. Thanks for having this giveaway.


  21. I would like to comment that the present LDS (mormon) church does not practice polygamy. Yes, it is part of our heritage but Big Love is not about the current LDS church. I would love to read this book to see how accurately it portrays the LDS faith versus the fundamentalist sects that are not part of the LDS church

  22. To be honest I almost skipped entering because I didn't know if I would be that into reading about Mormanism and multiple wives. But after reading your review and becoming intrigued by the murder mystery aspect of the book, I just have to read it. Thanks for the giveaway.
    eswright18 at gmail dot com

  23. I have heard really good things about this book, so I really want to read it. And I must admit that I am intrigued by the lifestyle even though it's not one I would actually want to live!