The 19th Wife, a novel by David Ebershoff, is loosely based on the story of Ann Eliza Young, one of the wives of Brigham Young, the preeminent prophet and leader of the Mormon Church in the nineteenth century. Ann Eliza left Brigham, and began a crusade to end polygamy. Her story is interspersed with that of a fictional modern 19th wife, BeckyLyn Scott. BeckyLyn is accused of murdering her husband.
The modern story is told through the viewpoint of BeckyLyn’s adult son Jordan, whom she was forced to abandon when he was a teenager. The Scott family is part of the fictional community of Mesadale, Utah. This community calls itself the “Firsts”; they are faithful to the original Mormon belief in Celestial Marriage (polygamy).
When Ann Eliza left Brigham, she began a lecture tour of the country, ending in Washington D.C. and meeting with members of Congress and President Grant. Her voice was instrumental to the passage of the Poland Act, which helped to end polygamy in Utah.
Jordan returns to Utah to visit BeckyLyn in prison. He becomes convinced that his mother is innocent. As Jordan tries to unravel the mystery, we learn more about modern day fundamentalist Mormonism. From Ann Eliza’s story, we learn about the roots of the Mesadale community.
One of my favorite non-fiction books is Jon Krakauer’s fascinating investigation into fundamentalist Mormonism, Under the Banner of Heaven. And of course I never miss an episode of HBO’s Big Love. So when I first head about The 19th Wife, I knew I had to read it. I really enjoyed it, and am glad I actually bought it (even though I am now generally against purchasing books).
Published in hardcover-Random House-2008
Softcover edition-Random House-2009