the 19th wife
is a New York Times, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Publishers Weekly, Contra Costa Times, and Independent Booksellers Bestseller
Finalist for the Utah Book Award and the Ferro-Grumley Award
Named one of the Best Books of the Year by Publishers Weekly
"This ambitious third novel tells two parallel stories of polygamy. The first recounts Brigham Young's expulsion of one of his wives, Ann Eliza, from the Mormon Church; the second is a modern-day murder mystery set in a polygamous compound in Utah. Unfolding through an impressive variety of narrative forms—Wikipedia entries, academic research papers, newspaper opinion pieces—the stories include fascinating historical details. We are told, for instance, of Brigham Young's ban on dramas that romanticized monogamous love at his community theatre; as one of Young's followers says, "I ain't sitting through no play where a man makes such a cussed fuss over one woman." Ebershoff demonstrates abundant virtuosity, as he convincingly inhabits the voices of both a nineteenth-century Mormon wife and a contemporary gay youth excommunicated from the church, while also managing to say something about the mysterious power of faith."
—The New Yorker
"The 19th Wife is a big book, in every sense of the word. It sweeps across time and delves deeply into a world long hidden from sight. It offers historical and contemporary perspective on one of the world's fastest-growing religions and one of its oldest practices, and in the process it does that thing all good novels do: It entertains us."
—Los Angeles Times
“Part history class, part expose, part love story, The 19th Wife is thoroughly addictive….Ebershoff not only imparts a valuable lesson on religion, but spins a compelling tale that makes readers question the power of faith and what we believe and why.”
"[The 19th Wife] evinces a respect for the difficult mysteries of faith as well as the importance of the family, however that might be defined. . . . The multiplicity of perspectives serves to broaden Ebershoff’s depiction not only of polygamy, but also of the people whose lives it informs. And this gives his novel a rare sense of moral urgency."
—The New York Times Book Review
"Coming on the heels of the news-making raid on the FLDS polygamist sect in Texas, this lyrical yet fact-packed epic about the Mormon practice of plural marriage is both timely and transporting. Ebershoff intertwines a modern-day murder mystery with a sweeping historical saga; his title refers to the real-life wife of Mormon leader Brigham Young, who fled her husband and ditched her faith in 1873. Based on Ann Eliza's groundbreaking 1875 memoir, Wife No. 19, and her subsequent campaign to make polygamy illegal, Ebershoff re-creates her struggles as a "sister wife," bringing to life the jealousies, insecurities and financial hardships of being one of a string of spouses -- all of whom Brigham claimed to marry in honor of God. Equally compelling is the book's gritty contemporary story of another 19th wife -- from a renegade cult in the remote desert -- accused of killing her husband after he tells her he will no longer sleep with her. This wife is ultimately redeemed by her gay son, whom she abandoned (under orders from the sect's 'Prophet') when he was 14. Ebershoff's exhaustive research and deft prose combine to make his third novel a literary tour de force."
—People, 4 out of 4 stars and a People pick
"A compelling portrait of the beginnings and ends of Mormon polygamy, and a marvelous examination of its effects on women (the obvious sufferers) and men (also brutalized, the author shows). The 19th Wife is an exploration of how and whether community is possible after a loss of belief."
“This exquisite tour de force explores the dark roots of polygamy and its modern-day fruit in a renegade cult. . . . Ebershoff (The Danish Girl) brilliantly blends a haunting fictional narrative by Ann Eliza Young, the real-life 19th “rebel” wife of Mormon leader Brigham Young, with the equally compelling contemporary narrative of fictional Jordan Scott, a 20-year-old gay man. . . . With the topic of plural marriage and its shattering impact on women and powerless children in today's headlines, this novel is essential reading for anyone seeking understanding of the subject.”
—Publishers Weekly, Starred and “Pick of the Week”
“Rarely has a work of fiction seemed more timely than David Ebershoff's The
19th Wife, a page-turning epic set amid a polygamous Utah sect eerily
similar to those recently dominating the headlines. In his fourth novel,
Ebershoff interweaves the mystery of a polygamist's murder - one of his
wives stands accused - with a keen look at the history of the Mormon church. Striking literary gold in the real-life story of Ann Eliza Young, the
nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, Ebershoff explores how she fled her
marriage and spent the rest of her life trying to abolish polygamy. By
giving voice to Ann Eliza's reality ("Faith is a mystery, elusive to many,
and never easy to explain"), as well as that of her fictional but
all-too-credible counterparts, this tour de force lays bare the spiritual
crimes committed to this day in the name of religious conviction.”
“Engrossing…vivid…Ebershoff has produced a novel that poses engaging challenges for the faithful in any denomination without discounting the essential value of faith. The result is a book packed with historical illumination, unforgettable characters and the deepest questions about the tenacity of belief…Remarkable…The greatest triumph is the way all this material illuminates the larger landscape of faith.”
—Washington Post Book World
"A skilled ventriloquist, [Ebershoff] gives voice not only to his spirited protagonist but also to her dismayed family members, an indignant, vexed Brigham Young and impartial modern historians. Each is bent on fathoming the mysteries of faith and doubt, love and sex, group loyalty and personal integrity."
--San Francisco Chronicle
The 19th Wife can be as chilling as it is entertaining, so good that 507 pages fly by."
—New York Daily News
"Wonderful. . . .Like A.S. Byatt, whose brilliant novel Possession also split the narrative between time periods, Ebershoff uses a series of fictionalized documents to add depth and perspective to his tale."
—Sacramento News & Review
"Absolutely fascinating and educating . . . I gobbled it up in a couple of days and was riveted the whole time."
—Knoxville News & Sentinel
The 19th Wife is the heir apparent to The Red Tent and, like The Da Vinci Code, is that rare book that effortlessly explicates and entertains all at once."
—Publishers Weekly, "Galley Talk"
"It's a tribute to [Ebershoff's] storytelling skill that he can impart such grim information in a relatively light way. Because [The 19th Wife] centers continually on the humanity of the people involved - including the humanity of the early church leaders who originated the custom of Mormon polygamy - it's a good story even if you've never felt a driving urge to learn all about early Mormonism."
—Charlotte Observer (4 out of 4 stars)
“Polygamy breeds controversy and raises profound emotional and ethical questions. Recent legal battles with the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints spotlight concerns over cult sanctioned sexual abuse, and now in steps an incisive and entertaining novelist with a deep interest in sexual politics. Ebershoff (The Danish Girl, 2000; Pasadena, 2002) discovered the perfect historic guide to the psychological complexity of polygamy in Ann Eliza Young, the rebellious nineteenth wife of Brigham Young, who courageously revealed the truth about plural marriage in her headline-grabbing memoirs and lecture tour. Ebershoff cleverly parallels Ann Eliza’s tumultuous life with the stifled existence of a present-day nineteenth wife, BeckyLyn, who is accused of murdering her husband. BeckyLyn’s son Jordan, cast out of the First Latter-day Saints compound at 14 and now an outed gay man, returns to help and soon acquires a tough little sidekick in Johnny, a quick-witted, foulmouthed cult runaway. Great fun to read with its enticing characters, swift dialogue, and neatly structured plot, Ebershoff’s sensitive and topical tale of hijacked religion and sexual tyranny, true community and freedom, provides much food for thought in the mode of such seriously popular writers as Jodi Picoult, Anna Quindlen, and Andre Dubus III.”
—Booklist, Starred review
"The 19th Wife subtly relates the way Mormon history continues to affect present-day policies and realities with a surprising amount of insight and sensitivity, creating an entertaining, sympathetic, and sometimes very funny novel."
"Perhaps the overarching reason to seek [The 19th Wife] out, one that will keep it being read for generations, is that it's a book written with a genuine ambition to be a contender for The Great American Novel - and you don't much see that kind of Marquezian reach. If jazz is the only truly original American art form, Ebershoff sees that Mormonism is the only homegrown religion that has succeeded on a massive scale. Alone among fiction writers not of Mormon background themselves, he sees the myriad storytelling possibilities that flow from this grand native myth of upstate New York farmer Joseph Smith."
“Ebershoff takes a promising historical premise and runs with it. . . . reminiscent of Wallace Stegner's Angle of Repose in scope and ambition.”
“Ebershoff combines historical fiction with a modern murder mystery for a timely portrait on polygamy.”
—St. George (Utah) Spectrum
“Ebershoff, as always, tells his story in the richest possible way. Endlessly rewarding the reader, summoning voices from the past and present, diaries and emails, The 19th Wife shows us layers of America down to the core. A brilliant original.”
—Andrew Sean Greer, author of The Confessions of Max Tivoli and The Story of a Marriage
"Compassionate and skillful storytelling . . . . beautifully woven."
—Amy Bloom , author of Away
"Like the wonderful HBO series Big Love, David Ebershoff has chosen to tell his story of the polygamist strain of Mormon culture in America from the inside. But here he goes one better: Interweaving two startlingly different narrative voices—one 19th-century female, one 21st-century male—THE 19TH WIFE is a detective novel that speaks at once to the past and the present. The result is compelling, original fiction, and Ebershoff's best book yet."
—John Burnham Schwartz author of The Commoner and Reservation Road
"David Ebershoff ambitiously braids together two different books here. One is a well-written, well-researched historical novel about the first years of the Mormons. The other, and my favorite, is a gritty, modern murder mystery set in a nightmare world worthy of Shirley Jackson or Stephen King (only this one is unfortunately real), with a street smart protagonist who is immensely likable. Together the two narratives form a very rich and timely portrait of polygamy.”
—Christopher Bram, author of Father of Frankenstein and The Notorious Dr. August
"When I began The 19th Wife I knew nothing about the Mormons and the Firsts and frankly I didn't think I cared, but within a few pages I was completely fascinated. David Ebershoff delivers a dazzling high wire act between fact and fiction, and shines light from every angle on the divisive topic of American polygamy in a compelling and timely novel."
—Danny Scheinmann, author of Random Acts of Heroic Love