Sunday, 1 April 2012

Book Review: The 19th Wife - David Ebershoff

Synopsis - For the first time in six years, Jordan returns from California to Utah, to visit his mother - in jail.  As a young boy he was expelled from his family's secretive polygamous Mormon sect.  Now his father has been found shot dead in front of his computer, and one of his many wives - Jordan's mother - is accused of the crime.

Over a century earlier, Ann Eliza Young, nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, second Prophet of the Mormon church, tells the sensational story of how she battled for her freedom from her powerful husband, to lead a crusade to end polygamy in the United States.

Review - This is a work of fiction running two parallel stories.  BeckyLynn, 19th wife,  accused of murdering her husband and the story of Ann Eliza Young, 19th wife of Brigham Young, the latter based on fact.  The author tells us in his epilogue that this is a work of fiction interlaced with researched articles about Mrs Young, 19th Wife.

A long book which I did not find easy, however it was interesting.  I am a Christian and I attend church as and when I can.  I have always been sceptical of the more unorthodox faiths (I use the term unorthodox in meaning communities like Amish, LDS, JW, Scientology etc).  I don't believe they are wrong per se, but they do/did have very unusual and strong beliefs which I have to challenge.  For example as in the book - polygamy and slaughter of those who run away or go against the 'church'.  Of course the book is referring to the 'Firsts'.

As far as the story goes, I liked the way it was interwoven between facts, it made the book a little easier to read.  I am sure it is not intended to put people off and maybe, the LDS' wouldn't read it anyway.  Polygamy in some of these religious communities has been previously documented and the reader knows that this went on.  I found the hierarchy interesting and I have to say one does wonder how a husband could keep tally on when he last visited and which wife.  I can only commend Ann Eliza for her bravery and courage in bringing it all out in the open, even though the press knew it was going on despite the denials from the Prophets.  Sadly, it did not end there, although history shows that the LDS in general stopped but the 'Firsts' carried on with polygamy.

I would like to think that this book opens our eyes to the fact that the Bible can be open to interpretation and sadly, one charismatic leader can make a misinterpretation and can get his followers to believe (brainwashing) - that is when religion becomes a scary and frightening belief.  3*

ISBN 978-0-552-77498-7 Black Swan 2009

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