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The 19th Wife

3.62 of 5 stars 3.62  ·  rating details  ·  43,938 ratings  ·  5,485 reviews

Faith, I tell them, is a mystery, elusive to many, and never easy to explain.

Sweeping and lyrical, spellbinding and unforgettable, David Ebershoff’s The 19th Wife combines epic historical fiction with a modern murder mystery to create a brilliant novel of literary suspense. It is 1875, and Ann Eliza Young has recently separated from her powerful husband, Brigham Young, p

Hardcover, 514 pages
Published August 5th 2008 by Random House
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Best for Book Clubs
161st out of 3,809 books — 9,538 voters
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Polygamist Cults
1st out of 18 books — 105 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Nancy Oakes
Talk about timing -- with the big raid a month ago at the Yearning For Zion ranch and all of the news from that event, this book is going to sell, big time. Personally, I'm fascinated with the whole issue of polygamy -- not that I'd want to do it, but I do wonder why others subject themselves and furthermore, I wonder why the government hasn't just come right out and reminded law enforcement that polygamy is illegal and that leads to my wondering why this is still going on. The whole brainwashin ...more
This is a book about polygamy, in Brigham's time and today. It uses the divided time frame technique, trying to link two stories; and liberally mixes history with fiction (to the point that it's very hard to discern what is history - and there's not much history by the time he's done).

There are two 19th wives. One is the real historical figure Ann Eliza Webb Young, married to Brigham. She was his 19th wife (on some lists - depending on the criteria). When she became disaffected and left the marr
Jul 24, 2008 Jackie rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: those who liked Under the Banner of Heaven and Escape
Recommended to Jackie by: Roxie Holcomb
This book is rather unusual because it's actually two books in one. One of the books is a well researched historical fiction novel about Ann Eliza Young, Mormon leader Brigham Young's "19th wife" who fled polygamy in the late 1800s and made it her life's mission to abolish it (succeeding, at least legally). The second book is a murder mystery involving a present day polygamist group, with a gay "lost boy" (polygamy sects often abandon young boys to the world so that they are not competition for ...more
Sep 20, 2012 Dave rated it 3 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Mormon history buffs, mystery fans
Recommended to Dave by: NPR
Shelves: fiction-read
This is a provocative work. It deals with difficult issues in areas of community, doubt, faith, family and marriage. The author loosely interweaves two fictional stories; one of the effects of Mormon polygamy on a few people in the 19th century and another focusing on a fictional contemporary polygamous group in southern Utah that strongly resembles the FLDS group led by Warren Jeffs and his predecessors. Blending a contemporary murder mystery set in a fundamentalist/polygynous enclave, with a f ...more
I was asked to answer questions at a Library Book Club about the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that sparked because of this book. On doing research to know how to respond to some of the questions many have on why our faith practiced polygamy over 100 years ago, I came across an article that I felt answered a lot of questions that I agree with.

The book club was very excited to ask difficult questions in a setting that was not offensive. I foun
I was really looking forward to reading this book; it has great reviews and mixes historical fiction with a modern mystery. About polygamy, history, and mystery - I expected to love this novel. I was deeply disappointed. First, the reader can't tell when the author is writing a fiction part of the historical fiction and what is indeed part of history. There are no chapter notes of any kind to give the reader an idea of what is true and what he made up. An uneducated reader may be left believing ...more
Aug 21, 2008 Kim rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Kim by: NPR
Shelves: 2008
This book made it into the realm of the I-can't-put-this-down! I highly recommend this book to anyone interested in Mormon history or religion in general (both topics which interest me). The major theme of this book is truth - who decides what is truth, does everyone have their own truth based on their desires?

I first heard about this book on NPR. Serendipitously the author was visiting Pasadena (where he is from) when I was on an extended trip there. I was fortunate to be able to attend his rea
Vanessa Druckman
Jan 04, 2010 Vanessa Druckman rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Vanessa by: People Magazine
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Whew. That was quite a read. I really don't know how to even discuss this book but this will probably be my longest review yet. I'll be discussing it with my Book Club in June and I honestly don't even know where to start with it when we delve into discussions. Here are a few of my scattered thoughts about this book:

1- Despite the fact that it's historical FICTION many parts of the book are written as "documents" which gives it's authenticity a very convincing feel. It made me want to verify and
Jonathan Peto
Good book.

I've noticed a few reviews that have panned the novel for religious reasons or because of differences over the intersection between fiction and nonfiction, but neither issue affected me. The foul language and the gay relationships in one of the plot lines didn't distract me either. I was surprised to read complaints. The language suits the characters. The focal character's sexual orientation was just an aspect of his character and was not something the author emphasized. I thought it w
A fascinating book at times and at other times I had to force myself to read it. One story is set in the mid-late 19th century as historical fiction while another, a murder mystery, is a contemporary tale. The two stories have parallel themes of course and even slightly overlap.

My main grief was in the long-winded style of the 19th century characters, but I had other problems with this part of the book. Several "authors" were used to tell this antiquated story, a device I found distracting. I kn
Florence (Lefty) MacIntosh
We’ve got the same story playing out right here in Bountiful, BC Canada. I’ve read a few books on polygamy, I like that this one focuses on how nasty it is for boys as well as women. Although I usually find it annoying I also enjoyed how the author jumped between past & present telling 2 stories at once. Ann Young’s struggle to end polygamy in the late 1800’s became fresh & relevant, while the telling of polygamy’s impact on a gay young man in present times was really poignant. Some good ...more
Where I got the book: at a book club swap. Part of my 2014 challenge to read some books I already own.

The 19th Wife is a dual-narrative novel with interruptions. One of the main narratives proceeds from the viewpoint of Eliza Ann Young, who was the nineteenth or twenty-seventh or possibly fifty-second wife of Mormon leader Brigham Young. What is fact is that Eliza Ann divorced Brigham Young in 1873, that she wrote a book about her life among the polygamous Mormons entitled Wife No. 19, and that
I was thoroughly put off by the gay characterizations/sex/language in the contemporary story. I felt it was crude and disrespectful to weave that plot along with descriptions of religious rites and rituals that are sacred to some. I also felt it was misleading to weave in seemingly real letters and references to "sealed" "archived" documents that might lead the reader to believe they are in fact the real deal when they are not. It is fiction--based on fact, I will give you that--but, still ficti ...more
Aug 09, 2009 Eastofoz rated it 3 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Readers who like a mix of fact and fiction and don't mind primarily prose style writing
Recommended to Eastofoz by: Won on GR
Shelves: fiction, 1st-person
Hard book to rate. In terms of thought provoking issues, learning quite a few things that I didn’t know before about some interesting American historical figures and sparking a lot questions and discussions, the book is a 4. When it comes to reading pleasure though it’s a 2 because it’s written in an extremely dense prose that sometimes has too many perspectives and makes the story a bit confusing to follow. Publishers Weekly compares the novel to Dan Brown's The DaVinci Code in terms of enterta ...more
Intertwining stories of Brigham Young's actual wife, Ann Eliza Young, who was instrumental in getting the Mormon church to renounce polygamy, and Jordan Scott, a fictional contemporary teen boy who returns to the polygamist sect he was thrown out of years ago when his mother is accused of killing her husband.

This is not young adult fiction but to me, since I've recently read a few young adult books and they seem to be getting more ambitious and since Jordan's first person narrative is sooooo t
This book is a novel (based on historical people and events) that intersects the stories of two people in different times growing up in a polygamous home. The first is the story of Ann Eliza Webb Young (a real historical figure), who was Brigham Young's 19th wife (technically his 19th, depending on how you count them). The second is the story of Jordan Scott, a young man in present times who is kicked out of his family's polygamous compound (think Colorado City and Warren Jeffs), then is drawn b ...more
Heidi Babcock
One of the best books I've read in a long time. I also enjoyed "Pasadena" which was written some time ago but Ebershoff's talents have expanded since then.
This is a combination history of/multiple story line about the Mormon church and the split between the regular church and the minority within the church which became the "Saints" who wholly believe in the right/commandment of polygamy, otherwise known as "celestial marriage". It is a fascinating read that could have kept going as far as I'm co
This book was fascinating. It tells two different stories at the same time. The story of Ana Eliza Dee Young, the 19th wife of Brigham Young and a modern day mystery regarding the death of a husband by his 19th wife. The story is interesting and told in two different perspectives.

Some have complained that it was confusing, I thought it was EASY to follow along and figure out who's voice was speaking---either from chapter title or topic of concern.

Others complained because one of the characters
I have to admit that Big Love has made me a bit of a sucker for books about out of the ordinary morman sects. That said, I found this book strange. There were two plots interwoven in the book One was a fast-paced modern-day plot that involved the murder of a polygamous man allegedly by his 19th wife. The second plot is takes place over a century before and involves Brigham Young's 19th wife. The two intermixed plots are written in two completely different ways--the modern one reads quickly while ...more
Lissa Chandler
When I closed this book, I put it down and thought, "That author just tried to do way too much."

Then I rubbed my forehead because I had a headache.

A lot of this novel is grueling, in part because Ebershoff switches back from modern day to the nineteenth century, only he's not just switching back between two characters. While the modern day story line concerning polygamists near St. George is narrated by a "lost boy" named Jordan, the rest of the novel is told through varying viewpoints of early
This was almost a 4-star book; the writing was good and the subject matter interesting. But it bogged down too often and I found it way too easy to set the book aside to do other things. A 4 or 5 star book should be like a vacation or a good meal - can't wait to get started and hate to see it end.

There are two, somewhat intertwined stories in the book. One is about Eliza Young, the 19th wife of LDS Prophet Brigham Young, who later fought for the end of polygamy. The other is about Beckylyn, the
This was an engrossing read. It interweaves the stories of two 19th wives--the first in the early years of the Mormon church, married to leader Brigham Young, and the second a member of one of the modern day splinter sects that practice polygamy.

I was raised Mormon and the orthodox history included comports with my memory; although it is common for people who leave to do so, I didn't research the non-orthodox versions of Mormon history after leaving the religion but based on random things I've r
Jun 11, 2012 Chrissie rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Chrissie by: European Royalty Group discussion
What can I say?

I really hated the ending. Was it an OK book? No, it really wasn’t, but I did learn some stuff about the Latter Day Saints, or the Mormons as they are also called, and also their split with the Firsts. Here is what bothered me:

I disliked the mixing of a modern mystery paralleled with an exposition of facts about the history of the Mormon Church. Therein lies a discussion of the destructive role of polygamy, a too sweet story about a contemporary gay relationship and the resolution
I wanted to like the mystery/contemporary half of this story as much as I enjoyed the historical fiction, but as the pages turned, I found myself more and more annoyed that they were interrupting a really good read. It's not that the mystery and details of who killed the modern day polygamist wasn't a good story, it was that it lacked the depth of the original 19th wife's tale. I found it easier to suspend disbelief of the fake memoir than to believe that a former "First" would jump so quickly b ...more
I never would have thought I'd be interested in a book on the Mormons and plural marriage, even though I do enjoy Big Love. But this book was highly recommended to me by a librarian whose opinion I respect; she's the one who convinced me to give Diana Gabaldon a try.
It's a great story, really two, one historical, about a gutsy and smart woman who was Brigham Young's 19th wife and the other story contemporary, about a young man who has returned to the compound of the Firsts where he was raised wh
I hesitate to recommend this book to anyone, for the simple fact that there is so much fiction intertwined with fact that it will be difficult for readers to discern between the two. As an active LDS member, I have to say I was relieved to find it was mostly about current FLDS practices than current Mormons. That was my biggest fear, that we would be dragged into all of their recent drama. However, it is a somewhat accurate portrayal of early Mormon theology and custom. Polygamy and its aftereff ...more
In The 19th Wife, the author interweaves two stories: one memoir-style story about Ann Eliza Young, the "19th wife" of Brigham Young, and one murder mystery of a modern day FLDS "19th wife" accused of shooting her polygamist husband. The latter is told by her excommunicated gay son, Jordan Scott.

At the beginning, I was more interested in the murder story, expecting it to be the more engaging of the two. But I quickly found Ann Eliza's story fascinating, and the contemporary story a distraction.
Diane Chamberlain
I LOVED this book! I'd give it more than five stars if I could. It's long and dense and so worth it. In part contemporary fiction and part historical "faction", the multi-leveled story looks back at the history of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints and one of its cultish offsprings called "The Firsts." I listened to it on audio, and the four readers were phenomenal. It's always difficult to know how different a book would be if you're reading it vs listening to it, so I can only spe ...more
This novel juxtaposes the story of Jordan, son of a polygamous FLDS marriage whose mother stands accused of murdering his father, with the story of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young's famous "nineteenth wife" who left Brigham in the late 19th century and campaigned vigorously to put an end to polygamy. Jordan's story is more straightforward and written as a classical mystery, with our hero interviewing suspects, uncovering clues, and putting a story together. Ann Eliza's story is told through multi ...more
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Around the World ...: Discussion for The 19th Wife 4 93 Nov 14, 2014 07:45PM  
Sisterhood of the...: December 2013: The 19th Wife 9 14 Dec 18, 2013 09:21AM  
The Transatlantic...: Trying something new 6 6 Nov 12, 2013 05:40AM  
Which story where you more interested in reading? 20 148 Nov 12, 2013 12:57AM  
Rapid City Public...: Staff Picks - The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff 1 11 Jun 14, 2013 10:11AM  
Editions? 2 12 Dec 20, 2012 07:32PM  
  • The Sister Wife (Brides of Gabriel, #1)
  • The Heretic's Daughter
  • Kept
  • Sacred Hearts
  • Wife No. 19
  • The Russian Concubine (The Russian Concubine, #1)
  • In Sacred Loneliness: The Plural Wives of Joseph Smith
  • The Romanov Bride
  • Cult Insanity: A Memoir of Polygamy, Prophets, and Blood Atonement
  • Finding Nouf (Nayir Sharqi & Katya Hijazi #1)
  • Prophet of Death: The Mormon Blood-Atonement Killings
  • When Men Become Gods: Mormon Polygamist Warren Jeffs, His Cult of Fear, and the Women Who Fought Back
  • The Commoner
  • The Glimmer Palace
  • I am Forbidden
  • Amandine
  • America America
  • The Heretic Queen
David Ebershoff is the author of four books, including The Danish Girl and the #1 bestseller The 19th Wife. The Danish Girl has been adapted as a major motion picture starring Academy Award-winner Eddie Redmayne and directed by Academy Award-winning director of The King’s Speech, Tom Hooper. The 19th Wife was made into a television movie that has aired around the globe. Ebershoff's books have been ...more
More about David Ebershoff...
The Danish Girl Pasadena The Rose City: Stories The 19th Wife, a Novel The Brown Reader: 50 Writers Remember College Hill

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“Last year when my grandma fell and broke her hip she couldn't paint her toenails anymore. So my grandpa started doing it for her, even after he fell and broke his hip, too. For me, that's love.” 23 likes
“I must say a few words about memory. It is full of holes. If you were to lay it out upon a table, it would resemble a scrap of lace. I am a lover of history . . . [but] history has one flaw. It is a subjective art, no less so than poetry or music. . . . The historian writes a truth. The memoirist writes a truth. The novelist writes a truth. And so on. My mother, we both know, wrote a truth in The 19th Wife– a truth that corresponded to her memory and desires. It is not the truth, certainly not. But a truth, yes . . . Her book is a fact. It remains so, even if it is snowflaked with holes.” 9 likes
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