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‘The 19th Wife’ by David Ebershoff

Now here’s a big book that’s worth the wrist strain plus you’re getting two stories for the price of one because The 19th Wife combines a historical epic with a modern-day murder mystery set in the world of oormon polygamy. If you liked the TV series Big Love, you will definitely want to get your hands on this.

The historical side of the book is seen from the perspective of Ann Eliza Young, who blows the whistle on polygamy when in 1875 she separates from her powerful husband, Brigham, then leader of the oormons. Not only does she give him an earful about the many disadvantages of being wife number 19, she goes on a lecture tour to tell the rest of the world. Her brave stand ultimately leads to the official end of plural marriage (although it still exists in fundamentalist sects) but she disappears without trace some time later.

To bring the same subject matter into a contemporary context, David Ebershoff tells a parallel story of Jordan, a young man thrown out of a polygamist community in modern-day Utah. Jordan’s been living rough in LA for four years but returns to his creepy home town when he learns his mother – also a 19th wife – has been jailed for killing his father. Jordan’s story is entirely a figment of the author’s imagination and reads like any gripping thriller with perhaps a touch of the Dean Koontzes about it. Ann Eliza Young, on the other hand, is a real character and much of her story has been gleaned from researching her two memoirs and the many screeds written about her at the time.

This real-life aspect to the book makes it all the more magnetic. Learning how women were talked into polygamy in the first place (free pass to salvation, anyone?) makes the neglect and humiliation many of them suffered as a result almost understandable. Almost. on his website, David Ebershoff says: “I always love novels that open up a subject to me – like raising a window to a beautiful, mysterious world outside.”

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