Monday, October 19, 2009

Two Books in One

I am reading The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff. It's really two books in one: Ebershoff retells Ann Eliza Young's original memoir of her life with, and subsequent divorce from, Brigham Young in the late 19th century. Young (Ann Eliza, not Brigham) went on to be a crusader against polygamy and against Mormonism itself. Layered between the pages of this story is a modern murder mystery set in a fictional fundamentalist LDS clan in Utah, told from the point of view of one its "lost boys." Ebershoff also includes historical background material that retells Ann Eliza Young's story from different points of view. These include a memoir by her father, depositions by her brother, and extracts from a graduate student's research.

The question for me is, what is real and what isn't? Ann Eliza Young really wrote a memoir, but how accurate is Ebershoff's retelling? Is he using her words? How do I figure this out? Is the material that was supposedly written by Young's brother and father real or fiction? The only thing I know that is certainly fiction is the modern mystery, which is also very good.

Ebershoff has a Web site but it's not very comprehensive. Wikipedia has a good article about Ann Eliza Young. I am starting with these, but this process is taking me a long time. The book is long and engrossing, but is also slow going.

So that's where I've been. Just wanted to give you an update.


Serena said...

I have this book on the shelf and have been looking forward to it.

Anonymous said...

The author made it clear in his notes that his account of the real Ann Eliza Young is fictional and that the real Ann Eliza was quite different than he portrayed her to be.

I too found the book confusing in this regard. Was this the writer's intention - to blur the line between fact and fiction to make his point?

I was left with no choice but to consider the whole book to be fiction. If I want to know about the real Ann Eliza Young, I'll have to read one of her memoirs.

Cath said...

I read this book, and I had lots of problems with it, especially this one you mention. Just--strange, and sort of unnecessary, for him to go there.

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