Synopses & Reviews
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 familys polygamous history is revealed, including how both she and her mother became plural wives. Yet soon after Ann Elizas 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 fathers death. And as Ann Elizas narrative intertwines with that of Jordans search, readers are pulled deeper into the mysteries of love, family, and faith.
“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”
"Engrossing...remarkable...a book packed with historical illumination, unforgettable characters and the deepest questions about the tenacity of belief....The greatest triumph is the way [The 19th Wife] illuminates the larger landscape of faith." The Washington Post Book World
"Part history class, part expose, part love story, The 19th Wife is thoroughly addictive....[David] 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." USA Today
"Rarely has a work of fiction seemed more timely....A page-turning epic...[a] tour de force." Vogue
This work from the author of The Danish Girl and Pasadena is a spellbinding work of literary suspense, set against the history of the Mormon Church, that combines historical fiction with a modern-day mystery.
About the Author
David Ebershoff is the author of two novels, Pasadena and The Danish Girl, and a short-story collection, The Rose City. His fiction has won a number of awards, including the Rosenthal Foundation Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the Lambda Literary Award, and has been translated into ten languages to critical acclaim. Ebershoff has taught creative writing at New York University and Princeton and is currently an adjunct assistant professor in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. For many years he was the publishing director of the Modern Library, and he is currently an editor-at-large for Random House. He lives in New York City.
Reading Group Guide
1. The first part of the novel, “Two Wives,” contains prefaces to two very different books. What did you think when you started reading The 19th Wife
? Which story interested you the most?
2. Ann Eliza Young says, “Faith is a mystery.” How does Ebershoff play with this metaphor? What are the mysteries in The 19th Wife? What does the novel say about faith?
3. What are your impressions of Ann Eliza Young, and how do those impressions change over the course of the novel? Do you trust her as a narrator?
4. Brigham Young was one of the most dynamic and complex figures in nineteenth-century America. How does the novel portray him? Do you come to understand his deep convictions? In the story of his marriage to Ann Eliza, he essentially gets the last word. Why?
5. What kind of man is Chauncey Webb? And Gilbert? What do they tell you about polygamy? And about faith?
6. Jordan is an unlikely detective. What makes him a good sleuth? What are his blind spots?
7. Many of the people who help Jordan-Mr. Heber, Maureen, Kelly, and Tom-are Mormons. What do you think Ebershoff is saying by this?
8. Like many mysteries, Jordans story is a quest. What is he searching for?
9. Why do you think Ebershoff wrote the novel with so many voices? How do the voices play off one another? Who is your favorite narrator? And your least favorite?
10. Why do you think Ebershoff wrote a fictional memoir by Ann Eliza Young, and why are some chapters missing? As he says in his Authors Note, the real Ann Eliza Young actually wrote two memoirs: Wife No. 19, first published in 1875, and Life in Mormon Bondage, which came out in 1908. Based on your reading of The 19th Wife, what kind of memoirist do you think the real Ann Eliza Young was?
11. One reviewer has said The 19th Wife is “that rare book that effortlessly explicates and entertains all at once.” Do you agree? How does the novel manage this balance?
12. Were you surprised by how the stories of Ann Eliza and Jordan come together? At what point were you able to see the connection?
13. Does Jordans story end as you hoped it would? Does it end as Jordan hoped it would?
14. What do you think ultimately happened to Ann Eliza Young?