Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The 19th Wife, by David Ebershoff--TLC Book Tour, review and GIVEAWAY!

Today I'm hosting David Ebershoff on a TLC Book Tour stop for his wonderful novel The 19th Wife. Besides this virtual book tour, David has also been on an IRL book tour, at some of the great independent book stores around the west. He will be at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on June 22, and several book bloggers I know are planning to attend, so--meet ya there!

Also, the lovely and talented Trish at Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'? met David at the book signing he did at her local independent bookstore--check out her post about it here.

My Review:

The 19th Wife
by David Ebershoff
Random House, 2008
Fiction (historical), 514 pages

In his novel The 19th Wife, David Ebershoff weaves two seemingly disparate stories together to form a satisfying and cohesive whole. He tells the story of Ann Eliza Young, 19th wife of Brigham Young, whose own past illustrates the history of the LDS church's founding, and whose married life becomes the stuff of legend when she divorces Brigham to protest--and escape--a life under polygamy.

Ebershoff also tells the story of a modern son of polygamy, Jordan Scott, a "lost boy", kicked out of the FLDS, or Firsts' polygamous cult when he was a teenager. Evidently the "lost boys" are a perceived a threat to the cult's old men, who want to keep all the young women to themselves, so they eject them from the cult, and these boys have to figure out how to live in the modern world completely alone. Jordan has survived being a lost boy, though it has been a rocky road, and now he has created a life for himself and has found a sort of peace.

However, that peace is soon shattered when Jordan's mother is accused of murdering his father. Jordan's mother, who, like Ann Eliza Young, has the dubious title of wife number nineteen, is the prime suspect when her husband is found dead of a gunshot wound, but she vehemently denies her guilt. And so Jordan gets pulled back into the world of the FLDS, as he investigates his father's death, and tries to exonerate his mother.

So Jordan's story is in some ways a murder mystery, but it is also a journey of self-discovery. And Ann Eliza's story is in some ways a history of the LDS church, but it, too, is a journey of self-discovery. Thus these stories complement each other so well. You understand Jordan's story so much better knowing Ann Eliza's story as background, and Jordan's story, which serves as an example of the legacy of the early polygamists, really completes Ann Eliza's tale.

Ebershoff effortlessly blends fact and fiction in the book, and uses many wonderful devices, including letters and even a Wikipedia entry, to tell his tale. This artful blend of past and present, fact and fiction, is what really drew me into the story. I found Ebershoff's juxtaposition of the historical and the present fascinating, and his command of the history very impressive. Ann Eliza Young's story was enhanced not only by Jordan's modern story, but also by the story of Kelly Dee, the young Mormon scholar who is studying Ann Eliza, her ancestor, in the present. And some of my favorite parts of the story were the letters from Ann Eliza's son Lorenzo--his point of view was a really interesting addition.

I found both main characters, Jordan Scott and Ann Eliza Young, to be spunky, charismatic and ultimately very compelling. Their stories add up to a unique and very readable historical novel.

When my book group read Jon Krakauer's non-fiction book about modern polygamy, Under The Banner of Heaven, I wish we had known about The 19th Wife, and read it, too. It would have made for a wonderful addition to our discussion--a thought-provoking fictional complement.

This novel was the rare combination of entertaining and enlightening, and I found it to be a very satisfying read.

About the Author:

David Ebershoff is the author of two other novels, Pasadena and The Danish Girl, and a collection of stories, The Rose City. He currently teaches in the graduate writing program at Columbia University. He also is an editor-at-large for Random House.

Please check out the impressive website about The 19th Wife, which includes links to the full text of Ann Eliza Young's memoir, Wife Number 19, newspaper articles from the time about the divorce of Brigham and Ann Eliza Young, and other great resources.

Here is a link to the schedule of David Ebershoff's readings and signings of The 19th Wife. As I mentioned above, I'm hoping to attend the event at Vroman's Bookstore in Pasadena on June 22--so I hope to see any of you locals there!

Also check out the TLC Book Tour for The 19th Wife:

Monday, May 18: Hey, Lady! Whatcha Readin’?
Wednesday, May 20th: A Guy’s Moleskin Notebook
Thursday, May 21st: Becky’s Book Reviews
Tuesday, May 26th: Book Nut
Tuesday, June 2nd: Biblioaddict
Thursday, June 4th: A Life in Books
Friday, June 5th: Bookgirl’s Nightstand
Monday, June 8th: Live and Let Di
Tuesday, June 9th: Ramya’s Bookshelf
Wednesday, June 10th: As Usual, I Need More Bookshelves
Thursday, June 11th: A Novel Menagerie
Tuesday, June 16th: The Book Faery Reviews
Wednesday, June 17th: Shelf Life
Friday, June 19th: In the Shadow of Mt. TBR

And now for the fun part of the post--a giveaway!

If you would like to put your name in the hat to win a brand new paperback copy of The 19th Wife, please leave me a comment about why you're interested in the book! Please leave me your email address, too. And thanks for playing!

Entries will be accepted until Tuesday, 6/23 at 8pm (Pacific time). Good luck!


Iliana said...

No need to add my name to the hat but just wanted to pop in and say glad to hear you enjoyed the book too!

I think what surprised me the most was how much I loved the weaving of the historical with the present. Sometimes that doesn't seem to work so well but in this case I just felt like not only was I being entertained by a good story but I was learning a bit about religious history in the U.S.

Florinda said...

Don't enter me in the giveaway, since I'm also on this blog tour :-), but I really like the way you pulled the threads of this book together in your review. There was a lot to it, and I loved it all - this will be one of my Books of the Year, I think.

Hope to see you at Vroman's on Monday!

Ti said...

I would love to attend the event but I will be volunteering backstage for a production of The Wizard of Oz. I know I will get a good update for you though.

I won The 19th Wife from Goodread's First Reads program and it just came the other day. I can't wait to read it. My book club is also reading The Danish Girl in Sept (my pick) so it should be a good discussion.

Ti said...

Oh yeah.. don't enter me as I already have the book.

Pam said...

I have been wanting to read this book since it was first released in hardcover. It sounds like such a great read, plus it would be somewhat educational as I don't know very much about the Mormon religion and understand very little about polygamy (ie., why do women consent to it?). I'd love to read and win this book!

melacan at hotmail dot com

Gentle Reader said...

iliana--I was also surprised by how much I enjoyed the weaving together of past and present--it really worked here!

florinda--I loved your review--very insightful! And I hope to be able to make it to Vroman's--not only am I excited about the reading, but I love that store!

Ti--I'm glad you have the book--can't wait to hear what you think. Good luck with The Wizard of Oz--or should I say "break a leg"?

Pam--I'll put your name in the hat:) It is a very educational book--it was really great how the author wove the history together with a modern story, and managed to be entertaining and educational at the same time!

Nadia said...

Loved your review of this book. It sounds so interesting. I would love to be entered in the giveaway. I like the idea of the historical intertwining with the present - sounds great!

Gentle Reader said...

Nadia--thanks! and consider yourself entered :)

litlove said...

You know I've been looking forward to your review of this one. I've seen it all over the shops here but have read very little about it. As ever, your wonderful review makes me extremely keen to read it - I know nothing about polygamous societies and it's an intriguing angle on the mother-child research I'm doing. So yes please, I'm in for the draw!

Gentle Reader said...

litlove--good, you're down for the draw! It would be interesting to think about regarding your mother-child research--a very different angle!

LisaMM said...

Excellent review! I also enjoyed this book and it really piqued my interest in polygamy- now I must read Under the Banner of Heaven!

Thanks for all the time and effort you put into reading and reviewing this book! See you on MOnday at Vroman's!

Gentle Reader said...

Lisa--I felt the same way--and you should definitely read Under the Banner of Heaven. Looking forward to seeing you at Vroman's!

Jen said...

hey! i need a kindle! think i'll get one for lopez. brought two books to florida and finished them already. liked people of the book ok but really glad it's not our main book club book. there's not that much there. quite like losing mum and pup, in a voyeuristic kind of way. hope you're well!

Gentle Reader said...

jen--you definitely are a prime candidate for kindle-owning. It would make traveling so much easier for you. Plus, if you can't find something to read while you're away, you can just buy something on the kindle at a moment's notice, any time of day or night! I want to read Losing Mum and Pup after hearing him talk about it on NPR. I'm hoping your trip is better than expected!

Aimala said...

I wanted to read this book since I first saw it in the bookstore in hardcover form. I am intrigued by the Mormon religion and particularly the concept of polygamy. I watch Big Love but I don't know a lot about the history of the practice or the religion. I know David Ebershoff is a good write and I am sure this book will be an interesting, thought-provoking read!

Thank you for hosting this giveaway!


Gentle Reader said...

Amy--I'll put your name in for the giveaway!

Matt said...

The book has stayed with me for a while after I put it down. One thing that I didn't mention in my review is how drastically different Jordan Scott's mother and Ann Eliza Young are. The latter was less "modern" as a woman since she lived in late 19th century, but the way she challenged the doctrine of the church and launched a campaign against the polygamy was so way ahead of her time. Whereas Jordan Scott's mother did not question any of the malpractices of the church. That she would want to submit to her husband blindly and how she wanted to remain there completely astonish me.

Gentle Reader said...

Matt--good point, you're absolutely right. Jordan's mother is more of an anachronism than Ann Eliza, who lived a hundred years earlier. I guess the author has really made the point that polygamy and what you call the malpractices of the church pushed the people backward rather than forward. I really found this book affecting, too!

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