Wednesday, March 3, 2010

The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

This Friday the morning book group will discuss David Ebershoff's novel, The 19th Wife, which alternates between two narrators. Ann Eliza Young was one of the fifty-something wives of the Mormon leader Brigham Young, and after her divorce in 1875, she went on a national lecture tour to denounce polygamy. Ebershoff based his fictional memoir partly on Ann Eliza's own memoir, Wife No. 19, which you can read here.

The other narrator of The 19th Wife is Jordan Scott, who grew up in the present day in a polygamist cult which closely resembles the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints*. When Jordan was a teenager, he was excommunicated from his church and left alongside a highway to fend for himself. When Jordan's mother is wrongly jailed for shooting her husband to death, Jordan decides to return to Mesadale to investigate.

*If you are interested in the true stories of women who escaped from FLDS, try Stolen Innocence by Elissa Wall or Escape by Carolyn Jessop, both available at BHPL. (Anne reminded me that I've overlooked Under the Banner of Heaven by Jon Krakauer, which is about Mormon fundamentalism.)

This is the third historical novel the book group has read with a 19th century feminist protagonist (purely by chance, I think). I wish we could invite Mamah Borthwick (from Loving Frank), Isabella Beecher Hooker and Victoria Woodhull (from Harriet and Isabella) as well as Ann Eliza Young to our meeting. Maybe when Google gets that time travel thing worked out?

Discussion questions for The 19th Wife are available here. The author also has a several of his interviews posted on the book's website, but the best one's on the Random House site.

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