Skip to main content
PBS logo

Search - The 19th Wife

The 19th Wife
The 19th Wife
Author: David Ebershoff
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 power...  more »
Info icon
ISBN-13: 9780812974157
ISBN-10: 0812974158
Publication Date: 6/16/2009
Pages: 528
  • Currently 3.6/5 Stars.

3.6 stars, based on 307 ratings
Publisher: Random House Trade Paperbacks
Book Type: Paperback
Other Versions: Hardcover
Reviews: Member | Amazon | Write a Review

Top Member Book Reviews

perryfran avatar reviewed The 19th Wife on + 1157 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 13
I found this to be a real eye-opener! Coming from a Mormon background (I grew up in Utah), this book was very relevant for me. I thought Ebershoff did a great job in telling this story that includes the roots of polygamy in the Mormon Church along with a modern day murder mystery in a polygamist cult and how the two stories connect with each other. I tend to agree that the story would have perhaps been better if only the story of Ann Eliza Young was told, but I did get engrossed in the modern-day story as well. Reading the story of the Mormon beginnings and Brigham Young was definitely not the same stories I was taught in Mormon Sunday school. Especially the baser aspects of why Brigham and Joseph Smith entered into polygamous relationships and some of the other historical aspects such as the "hand-cart tragedy." This is a work of fiction and it is hard to separate the fact from the fiction, however, I think the author tried to accurately portray the events as much as possible.

The story within the modern-day cult reminded me a lot of the HBO series "Big Love." I would recommend this series highly. This book also piqued my interest in reading more about Ann Eliza Young -- I would like to read her book "Wife No. 19" at some point. I didn't realize she had such an impact on the Mormon Church's renouncement of polygamy. Overall a high recommendation for this book.
reviewed The 19th Wife on + 9 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 11
I'm one of the rare people that didn't enjoy this book at all. I didn't even bother finishing it, placing it back on PBS almost a week after receiving it. I felt Ebershoff was a gruff author, writing at a 6th grade level and in a very choppy manner. While there was definitely a story to be told here, it merited refined words written in more eloquent ways. Neiter refinement nor eloquence can be found in this book. Save yourself the time and look for a better book to read.
catscritch avatar reviewed The 19th Wife on + 158 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 7
Ebershoff manages to straddle multiple stories, centuries and leading characters without leaving the reader behind. All voices feel authentic and it is easy to let go and be carried away by the quirky circumstances of a world I could never understand. While it is not out and out historical fact, I am that much closer to understanding this totally foreign religion without fear and just a little self-indulgent anger. It is, after all, a novel.

A superb read through and through!
marimij avatar reviewed The 19th Wife on + 30 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 5
This book kept me spell bound to the end. I loved the historical fiction sections because there were so many different ways of moving the story along. Ebershoff uses many different styles of writing including memoires, newspaper articles, diary entries, etc. It kept me guessing until the end of how the two stories (one historical, the other modern) would come together in the end. I couldn't put the book down.
reviewed The 19th Wife on + 32 more book reviews
Helpful Score: 4
The simultaneous story of two 19th wives: Ann Eliza Young, married to Brigham Young, left Utah, divorced him after five years, went on the lecture circuit talking about the truth of polygamy, and wrote a memoir. She was instrumental in ending polygamy in LDS. Meanwhile, in the now, Jordan is surfing the web in California and sees his mother BeckyLyn on the front page of the local paper where he grew up in Utah. His father is dead and his mother has been charged, they too have a celestial marriage. Jordan, who was dumped on the side of a highway as a 14 year old, and excommunicated for holding his sister's hand, plays private eye because his mother has no one else. The historical fiction and contemporary parts of the novel are buoyed by various documents: IMs Jordan's dad was having when he was killed, flyers advertising Ann Eliza's lectures and performances as an actress, a wikipedia entry, history papers written by a BYU student.

What Ann Eliza and Jordan both say, show and write repeatedly is how very much polygamy warps, harms and limits the wives, yes, of course, but *the children*. FLDS communities continue. Texas returned all those children, including the very young wives and mothers. States, especially Utah, must enforce the law. Maybe The 19th Wife just like Wife #19 before it, can have that impact and help to end the tyranny. It's a terrible practice. But a pageturner and a terrific book!
Read All 54 Book Reviews of "The 19th Wife"

Please Log in to Rate these Book Reviews

gamaw avatar reviewed The 19th Wife on + 99 more book reviews
This is a very uniquely written and interesting book. It is a blend of history and fiction that keeps you wondering if it is indeed real. I really enjoyed it. The story flows easily and keeps you engaged.
tiffwitch69 avatar reviewed The 19th Wife on + 64 more book reviews
Couldn't finish it. I made the mistake of watching the movie years ago. I really enjoyed it and this just didn't stand up. I know its supposed to be the other way around but I felt the characters in the movie were just so much more. I found the Jordan of this book to be a whiner and I couldn't get into it.
reviewed The 19th Wife on
When I began reading this book, I was afraid it might not hold my attention. However, as I read on, I became more and more interested in the parallel and somehow entwined stories. I ended up looking forward each day to my next chance to spend time reading the book and even stayed up rather late several nights to make faster progress.

The characterizations seemed real, the frequent switching from the early days of Mormonism to the present, and from narrative to (sometimes made-up, but convincing) documents, newspaper articles, and letters, far from confusing me, enriched the story. I learned a lot--something that always increases a book's value for me. Obviously a great deal of research went into the writing of this one, and the author is careful not to leave the reader feeling deceived by the way he has fictionalized the story.

All things considered, I found it a really satisfying read, in spite of certain distracting mistakes in English grammar (for example, after a series of three plurals, the singular "it" is used to refer to the items in question). It is all too easy to fall prey to the trickery of a word processor, so I do not blame the author. Rather, I think this book deserved a better job of editing.
jwigg avatar reviewed The 19th Wife on + 39 more book reviews
I read this after watching the movie.. and it varies quite a bit. I already had an idea about the plot and outcome, but this was a good read that kept me interested throughout. I have to admit, there were times where I was a bit confused about which story should be the focal point (it's one of those story-within-a-story books)... but I was interested in both and kept reading. All in all this was a three star read for me.. attention grabbing, interesting, historical facts mixed with fiction, and some added drama. I would recommend it to a friend, I'm glad I read it... just not sure I would read it for a second time.
reviewed The 19th Wife on + 2 more book reviews
Two storylines intertwine: an historic fictionalized version of the origins of Mormonism, and a modern-day murder.

Excellent rendition of the story of Joseph Smith, Brigham Young, and the earliest days of the religion as followed from the life of the 19th wife of Brigham Young. You will learn much historical fact as well as insights into the lives of the early Mormons.

Also found the modern-day story engaging and relevant, if not representative of most Mormons (or so I hear).

Everyone in our book club enjoyed this book; we had a fascinating discussion about religion and its relevance to historical and modern-day lives, pros and cons. We were fortunate to have an ex-Mormon participate in our bookclub!
reviewed The 19th Wife on
Fascinating history of the Mormon church, modern day fundamentalist sects and polygamy. I was constantly wondering which parts were historical and which parts were fiction. Read this alongside Krakauer's "Under the Banner of Heaven" {non fiction account of Ebershoff's fictional settings)and you'll see how much research Ebershoff did for this novel. Great novelization of the psychological and emotional impact of polygamy that I never considered. Very good read.