The 19th Wife is about history, faith and love related to the reader through two parallel narratives. In the historical part of the novel we read about people that existed in the real world, not just on the pages of a novel. It tells the story of one Ann Eliza Young who was the 19th wife of Brigham Young and her eventual expulsion from the Mormon church, when she rebelled about the practice of polygamy. A novel based around real people and very real events, but it is a work of fiction not a biographical account.
The modern day narrative is a murder mystery set in a town in Utah, concerning a sect that still practices polygamy.
I found this novel readable but it was somehow not the stimulating epic novel, at just over 600 pages that I was expecting. The account of Ann Eliza's family background of polygamy and her later crusade against it. This for me was the best part of the novel, a fascinating portrayal of a very peculiar lifestyle.
As her story unfolds so does the tale of modern day polygamy still practised by a breakaway group within the Mormons, called Firsts. Jordon Scott a young man who was thrown out of such a sect when he was just a boy, returns to the town of his childhood to try and solve the mystery of his father's death. I actually found this second narrative within the novel unconvincing and laborious reading.
The difference between the First Latter Day Saints and the leaders of the Mormon church in Salt Lake City is that the former strongly believed in the practise of taking many wives. Firsts are not Mormons, that I understand but they did come about because of the polygamous policies believed in by the early founders of the Mormon church.
I found myself more interested in trying to figure out where fact ended and fiction started. The background research I did about the Mormons was of a more lasting interest than the novel itself. Ann Eliza Young is a controversial figure to many not just those belonging to the Mormon church either. Maybe one day I will have the chance to read and learn more about her.
Sources of further info
There are a lot of characters in history mentioned in this novel,Chauncey Webb and his daughter Ann Eliza Webb Young,
Joseph Smith (Church founder) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Joseph_Smith,_Jr.
Information about the church founders can be found at Wikipedia.http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Church_of_Jesus_Christ_of_Latter-day_Saints
More information about the author can be found at his website.
David Ebershoff Authors Acknowledgements http://www.19thwife.com/acknowledge.html
This is an interesting video narrated by David Ebershoff about his novel 'The 19th Wife' which is well worth viewing.