The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (A Bookies Review)

It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, prophet and leader of the Mormon Church. Expelled and an outcast, Ann Eliza embarks on a crusade to end polygamy in the United States. A rich account of her family’s polygamous history is revealed, including how both she and her mother became plural wives. Yet soon after Ann Eliza’s story begins, a second exquisite narrative unfolds–a tale of murder involving a polygamist family in present-day Utah. Jordan Scott, a young man who was thrown out of his fundamentalist sect years earlier, must reenter the world that cast him aside in order to discover the truth behind his father’s death. And as Ann Eliza’s narrative intertwines with that of Jordan’s search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love, family, and faith.

Temple Garments, referred to as "secret underwear" in the book, were work under all clothing at all times. Even when you went to bed.
Members of Joseph F. Smith's family, including his sons and daughters, as well as their spouses and children, circa 1900.

I thought I knew what Polygamy was.  I knew there were those who believe in plural wives.  I haven’t watched it, but know there is a tv series right now called Sister Wives, about a man and his four wives.

Really I had no idea.

There’s something I really love about Historical Fiction.  I love the facts I find within the pages.  The 19th Wife is a fictional story, however woven through the chapters is a true story, the story of Ann Eliza Young the all too real woman who was married to Brigham Young and made the bold move to separate herself from what everyone in her circle believed.  From the very first pages I was hooked into something new, and different, and felt like I had walked into a world I knew little of.

A large part of this book is told through Jordan’s perspective.  Jordan is one of the “lost boys.”  As you come to find out, the lost boys are what is referred to when a boy in his early teens usually is excommunicated from the home and dumped out into the world to fend for themselves. 


The crude explanation is, this leaves more women to go around.  With the births being almost equally divided into boys and girls, and men are expected to have at least three wives… the numbers just do not add up. 

Although Jordan’s life has not been easy (there are some horrifying early years stories of what he did to survive), he is now at peace with where he is at in life and who he has become.  Or… so he thinks.

When Jordan’s mother is jailed and possibly going to be executed for a crime he does not believe she committed, Jordan sets his own judgements aside, and walks back into the life he never thought he would return to, to try to figure out what really happened.

The result is a twisting, informative, and all so close walk into the lives of those surrounded by what they believe to be God’s truth.  I personally, found it fascinating, like walking on the edge of something dangerous that I did not understand, but knowing I was safe as all was locked in the pages of the book.

I personally think this makes for an incredible discussion for a book group.  There are discussion group questions in the back of the book and out group made it through about 4 of them.  Our conversation flowed without the guidance of questions, facts and fiction mixed in our voices, from those who were appalled and did not enjoy the book (very few), to those of us who found it interesting and fascinating (the majority). 

Honestly, as we reviewed it, I felt this is what a book discussion is meant to be… we were bursting to discuss this book. 

As for the food:

"book lovers never sleep alone"
Had to use these napkins!

I missed some of the food pics.  There was also a delicious looking fruit salad. 

In the end, out of the eighteen women who sat down and reviewed this book, the average rating (scale of 1-5), the book rated a strong 4.  We felt it was very discussion worthy, informative and really… I could go on and on with this review … but yeah…. it has to end sometime.  😀

I think people who enjoy historical fiction will enjoy this book. 

Looking for some other thoughts on it?  here are some awesome book bloggers and their thoughts on The 19th Wife:

Becky’s Book Reviews

Caribou’s Mom

Devourer Of Books

Reviews By Lola


33 thoughts on “The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff (A Bookies Review)

  1. Yum! The food looks delicious! And I love the napkins. I can see how The 19th Wife would elicit a great discussion. I enjoyed the book but Jordan’s part didn’t interest me as much as the historical fiction.

  2. I don’t doubt that your group had a lot to talk about with this book. My book group read and discussed it back in January of 2010. It was a vigorous discussion. I went back and read my notes and saw that we debated whether this one might have been better as a non-fiction book (not my opinion, by the way), such as DEVIL IN THE WHITE CITY. In any case, it was a very discussable (a word?) book.

    If you are interested in more about the polygamy angle, I can recommend DESERT WIVES, a mystery by former investigative journalist Betty Webb. My mystery book group read this one a while back. Really a good book. Author based it on much, much research she did on sects in southern Utah and northern Arizona.

  3. I became more fascinated with the historical significance of polygamy and how it informed lives when the HBO series Big Love (now ended) brought the events front and center for me.

    I really want to read The 19th Wife…it sounds great. Love that your book club enjoyed it. I agree that these kinds of issues are great for discussion.

  4. The only other book of his I’ve read is The Danish Girl, which I loved. I think I’m going to have to add this to my wishlist. Great review.

    1. Laura you have to picture it, out group is a mixture of belightful faith backgrounds, from Lutheran, to Baptist, Evangelial Free, and Catholic. It was thrilling to set among this group of girls I am proud to call friends and watch us all talk about a faith driven book.

  5. I’ve read a few other books about polygamy and found the fascinating and frightening! This is one that I have been meaning to read for some time! Your thoughts have made me want to get to it soon!

  6. This sounds like a book I would thoroughly enjoy! I do love historical fiction; especially reading about religion as it plays such a huge role in most of our lives – no matter what we believe. Glad your group gave it such a high recommendation…I’ll be adding it to my list to read!

    1. Its fascinating Stacy… so different from the way we live! We joked that maybe if they were reading a book about our lives it would be called “The Wife” and they would laugh and wonder how one wife does it all! 😛

  7. This is a book that I didn’t love, but one that I think would have benefited from a book club discussion. I love that your book club includes food!

    1. There were three girls in our group who did not love it either, in fact all three of them quit readiing the book. One of them surprised me who loves historical fiction and descirbed it as dull…. its funny how books reach us differently 😀

  8. My neighborhood book group read this for our 100th book, and we all loved it. As you said, lots of great discussion and fascinating historical context. My husband enjoyed it, too.


  9. First off, I LOVE your new blog design! Gorgeous!

    I have this book in my home library. Great review! It sounds like something I will love. I am very interested in polygamy. I was a big fan of the HBO series Big Love. I found it off putting, but strangely compelling at the same time. I certainly would not want to share a spouse with other wives.

    Yummy food! I wish I was one of the Bookies. 😉

  10. Are those cookies made to look like teabags? Awesome! I will have to mention this book to my group, next week. Nobody came up with any ideas at all for a May discussion book, so I’ll see if they’ve read this one. Thanks!

    1. Hi Nancy! Yes, it is a tea bag shaped cookie. This cookie recipe was posted here last weekend with my Ted Dekker review. This is a great discussion book – be warned though it is big – a good 500 pages I think but it reads well, and some of the pages are reference pages so you can move past them pretty quickly. 🙂

  11. Love the food at your book club meeting. How fun to base it on various aspects of the book. I have this book but keep avoiding it because of its length and my uncertainly about whether I want to read it. But your review helped me to decide to take the plunge sooner rather than later.

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