Monday 15 November 2010

The 19th Wife by David Eberschoff

I chose this book because I read a glowing review about it on another blog.  It certainly won't be the last I choose for this reason - my to read list is expanding daily thanks to all of your wonderful reviews!

Synopsis: This book is split into two strands.  One strand tells the story of Ann Eliza Young, the 19th wife of the Mormon leader Brighman Young as she fights to leave her marriage and make polygamy illegal.  Alongside this is the modern story of Jordan Scott.  Cast out of the First Latter Day Saints for holding the hand of a girl, he recieves the news that his mum (also a 19th wife) has been arrested for killing his dad.  As he attempts to find out the truth, he discovers more and more about his family and religion.

Score: 3 out of 5

I liked this book but unfortunately not as much as I was hoping to.  I very much enjoyed the historical section of the book and the way the author told this tale through newspaper clippings, memoirs, diary entries and even fake wikipedia entries (I'm a sucker for this style in general though!).  Although I don't know enough about Mormon history to discern between what was real and what was embellished by Eberschoff, the historical characters rang true and had a lot of depth.  Ann Eliza wasn't made to be a hero and Brigham wasn't demonised, which added to my interest.

Unfortunately the modern section didn't hold my attention as well.  I started off enjoying it but as the book progressed I found myself wanting to skip through the Jordan section in order to get to more about Ann Eliza and Brigham.  Jordan didn't seem like a real person - he was one dimensional and his relationship with Tom was much too cozy and convenient to be believable.  The revelation of who actually killed his dad was a let down too, even though by that point my interest had waned.

I think part of this book's problem was it's length at 600+ pages.  There was a gem of a story in there trying to get out, but there wasn't enough action to sustain the length and some sections could have been severly edited down (Brigham's prison diary, all the stuff about the dogs).  By page 400 or so I was ready for the resolution of both strands of the novel and was impatient to finish.  It's a shame as I feel the concept for the novel was a great one.

Recommended for historical fiction fans.


  1. I saw this on the "Buy 2 get 1 free" table at Barnes and Noble yesterday, and almost picked it up. From your review, I'm sort of glad I didn't. I like long books, but sounds like this one dragged a bit. Thanks for a great review.

  2. Sorru to hear that this one didn't capture you, i really really liked it :-)

  3. @Willa
    I really did want to love it, there was just something stopping me! I thought it was a great idea for a story though.

  4. I have picked this up and put it back several times already. I'm going to have to pick it up the next time I'm in the store.

  5. Sorry this didn't live up to your expectations... the premise sounds very interesting.

  6. I have to admit the length has put me of this book when I've been browsing - sometimes long books need more effort to read.

    January would be a great time for our American Gods challenge - lets see if we can both finish in that month! :)

    By the way - have an award for you on my blog :) -

  7. I didn't realize how long of a book this was. I enjoy historical fiction lately, and also enjoy the style of telling stories through letters and even wikipedia entries, but it certainly sounds like it's a bit of a drag. I might give this one another look just in case, but I won't rush to the store to pick it up either!

  8. @Katherine - it is definitely worth a read, and I know lots of people have enjoyed it more than I did.

    @JoAnn - I love the premise too. There was a good story in there, it was just a bit stifled.

    @Mel - Thanks for the award! I do enjoy long books but maybe I've got a short attention span because for me long books must have a lot of action to keep my interest.

    @Coffee - I love historical fiction. I'd say it's worth a trip to the library for, but not full price. But then other people have enjoyed it far more than I did.

  9. Too bad it wasn't all you had hoped for. Sounds like a very interesting premise.

    Rose City Reader

  10. Hi there, thanks for commenting on my blog,
    you said you had given a book 1/2 star if I remember correctly,
    man please tell me the title so I do not buy it ever.
    It must have been very bad.
    Maybe I should have a one start and that would mean :Don't bother.
    But that is why my 2 stars say poorly written and in my book, I wouldn't bother buying that book.
    and so far it hasn't happened yet,
    But I'm really generous, some say I'm not severe enough, it's not my fault if I happen to like the book,
    I am not a true book critic and I happen to love a very vast majority of book genre so I please myself with a lot of them.
    But I sincerely hope to never fall upon a book that would deserve a 2 stars. as I would be saddened by it.
    But that is the way it goes.
    Have a great day, by the way I am following your blog

  11. I saw this movie on Lifetime a couple of months ago and thought it was a decent movie. So sry you didn't thoroughly enjoy the book. It's a shame because the book is usually better than the movie right? :)

  12. I didn't realize there was a modern section to this story. I think it's a bit misleading to say that the family in the modern section belongs to the Latter Day Saints. The actual LDS church does not allow polygamy, nor would it kick someone out for holding someone else's hand. My in-laws and several of my cousins are Mormon and I've been exposed to the church for a long time. While I'm not religious myself, I always like there to be a distinction between the LDS religion and the fundamentalist off-shoots that claim to follow the same beliefs.

  13. @Amanda
    Hi Amanda,

    I don't think my explanation of the modern section was very clear. The family in the modern section belong to an offshoot, the 'First' Latter Day Saints, that split with the main church when polygamy was outlawed. They are not recognised as Mormons by the church but are instead a radical cult. In the book many Mormons are involved with helping people escape from this cult and there is a clear distinction made.

  14. Oh the brief sounds very interesting... Sad you didn't like it :(

  15. Ah, I see - thanks for clearing that up for me Sam! :)

  16. This one is on my too read pile. I keep trying to pick it up but I always pick a different one that sounds more interesting to read first.

  17. This book grabbed me from the first page. David Ebershoff does a fantastic job of switching between the two stories. He includes an author's note at the back of the book detailing his research and telling of his inspiration in writing it. I thought The 19th Wife was a fantastic read - it is a wonderful blend of historical fiction and mystery.

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  18. I have never read a nearly 600 page book in just four days, but that is just what I did with this book. I felt a very emotional connection to this book and it's characters and I hope to read more from this author.

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