Monday, March 2

A Quote + a Book Recommendation

Only the madman is absolutely sure.

Robert Anton Wilson, novelist (1932-2007)


"The 19th Wife" by David Ebershoff is one I don't want to put down. until I finish it. On the copyright page, the author says:

"This is a work of historical fiction. Apart from the well-known actual people and events, and locales that figure in the narrative, all names, characters, places and incidents are the products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to current events or locales, or living persons, is entirely coincidental."

I must say it is hard to remember that when you are reading it; several of the names are familiar and the events could have been real. It is very hard to know where fact ends and fiction takes over (if you are not previously acquainted with the history.)

Learning about other religions, their life-styles; especially those of the Amish and Mormon Church, has always fascinated me for some reason. The only fault I can find with this book is that it jumps from era to era and group to group in such a way that it is difficult to sort out any continuity in the parallel story lines. I would have appreciated a time line chart for each era.

Did Brigham Young have a wife (among his many) named Ann Eliza, who wrote a book denouncing plural marriage in 1875? I don't know. But the possibility surely makes for a fascinating story here. Author Ebershoff writes the story of Ann Eliza, her antecedents and descendants simultaneously with a modern story of a young man who was run out of his family's community (by the then current prophet) for what seems to me to be the very minor offense of holding hands with the daughter of one of his mother's sister-wives. (I hope I am remembering that correctly.) The fact that he is gay (an unforgivable offense for Mormons) seems to be at odds with the stated reason for getting rid of him, and his mother's subsequent arrest for the murder of his father is the bulk of that storyline.

I asked, and was told by a blog friend that the Mormon Church outlawed polygamy in 1890, and that current groups in the news, such as the one in Texas, have nothing to do with the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Day Saints, whom we commonly refer to as "Mormons". In this book, the current group of people who practice polygamy resides in Utah, and I am unclear if this is an actual group - or a completely fictional one. It occurs to me that the group could be real, but his depiction of it may not. Does that make sense? Helping to confuse me is the fact that I watch Big Love on HBO. Whether it is true or not, the show is well acted and I enjoy it.


The paragraphs above were written last night, before I finished the book. Most of my questions were answered in the Author's Note and Acknowledgements. He states:

"This is a work of fiction. It is not meant to be read as a stand-in for a biography of Ann Eliza Young, Brigham Young, or any of the other historical figures who appear in it. Even so, it's human nature to wonder if a historical novel is inspired by real people and real events, and if so to what degree......"

"The mighty lens of history has enabled me to see Ann Eliza's life as she could not, and I have used this perspective to tell her story in a way that perhaps broadens it and connects it to our day. All of this is a long-winded answer to the original question, is The 19th Wife based on real people and real events? Yes. Have I invented much of it? Yes, for that is what novelists do."

So Ann Eliza did exist, and she did write a book (1875) about her experience with polygamy. She was not the actual 19th wife, although that was what she was called. Apparently, Brigham took many more wives and many of them were married in secret. When he "left the bed" of an older wife to marry a new wife, her number was re-used. There is so much of interest to learn in this book!


Barbara(aka Layla) said...

Oh, sounds good. I just added it to my list!

Buzzardbilly said...

OMG we're both bookish today! How cool is that?

If you click the Colonel, Colonel (so nice he named himself twice) link in today's blog, if you look along the stuff on the right-hand side scrolling down the screen, he has links to the most killer book lover search engines there are. You might find an answer on BY's wife's book (or not book) there.

Evil Twin's Wife said...

It sounds interesting... I'll have to check it out. :-)

Arkansas Patti said...

Share your facination with the Mormons and Amish. The Mormons, mainly for their family first creed. As much as I admire the Amish though, don't think I could do without creature comforts and modern conveniences, such as computers, electricity, etc. Just a weenie that way.

The book sounds great and it is now on my list. I'll ask my knowledgable Mormon friend about the accuracy.
Thanks for the review.

kenju said...

Patti, I could never live like the Amish, and therefore, I admire the heck out of them for doing it!

PI said...

I didn't add it to mine simply because you were honest and found it- at times - confusing it's a no-no for me just now. But the main reason is I have a list as long as a giant's arm.

Bob-kat said...

That sounds like an interesting book. It adds another dimension when you don't know where reality ends and fiction begins :)

tiff said...

I love that quote of the day. Once i make it thorugh the next 20 or so books on the old reading list, I think I'll tack this one on...cheange of pace from the fantasy/sc-fi stuff I do love.

tiff said...

also? reading something NOT geekly might help my spelling skills. Ouch - the typos!

No_Newz said...

I'm glad you liked it enough to come back for a second look. The top part was all new, all Home Fires goodness. :)

It sounds like good reading. I still have a stack unread with over due stamps, ooopps!

ET said...

There is a very good series about the Mormons on HBO named BIG LOVE. I hope it is all fiction, and none of it is from factual stuff.

Chancy said...

Thanks so much for the book review. I have seen "The 19th Wife" at my library but didn't check it out. Now I will.

I too like fictionalized history. Recently I read "Loving Frank" about Frank Lloyd Wright and his wives and loves.(fiction) It was interesting. Much better than the more current Wright book "The Women" that one I did not like.


Paul Nichols said...

I just spent quite a bit of time catching up on your blog. All of it is beautiful. Text and photos both. Great work!

Maria said...

I just bought two new novels during a trip to Cosco. I will add this one to my list because, I too, am fascinated by Mormon history. I am however, very upset with their view of Homosexuality and also with all the money they poured into California to promote Yes on 8 which of course denied same sex marriage.

OldOldLady Of The Hills said...

I must say, I find this type of book rather confusing and wonder WHY someone writes a book of fiction based on Actual Real People who lived! Personally, I find this very suspect. What do I mean? Well, WHY write about real people who lived and make stuff up about them, unless your REAL reason is to get a lot of attention for a book that may or may NOT hold the same interest if they were ALL Fictional people? (Does that make
To have to write such a "I'm-sorry-if-I-confused-you-aoplogy about his characters tells me he WANTS you to think maybe what he has written is all real....Why not just make up all the characters? Hmmmmm. Because then, not as many people would be talking about it; reading it; and be confused about it, too! Personally I find this very disturbing.

Inanna said...

Although we can look at the Amish and believe we could never live that way, they have not known anything else so they do not miss our creature comforts. Imagine all of the noise in our lives made by mechanical objects then imagine that noise being gone. I can imagine that would be very peaceful. Boring after a while, but peaceful too.

Sheri said...

I am the product of two pre-1890polygamous families and am an active "Mormon". I've tried but can't read historical Mormon fiction, because I find too much fiction and very little fact! It's a genre I'm not interested in.

There are groups of polygamous families in the Salt Lake valley (I think there are about 30,000 people practicing in Utah) but like the Arizona and Texas groups, they are not part of the LDS or Mormon church.

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