Reading guide for The 19th Wife by David Ebershoff

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The 19th Wife

A Novel

by David Ebershoff

The 19th Wife
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2008, 528 pages
    Paperback:
    Jun 2009, 528 pages

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Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!

  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?

  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, Jordan’s 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? Who is 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 Author’s Note, the real Ann Eliza Young actually wrote two memoirs: Wife No. 19, first published in 1875, and a second book, 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? Did you predict it?

  13. Does Jordan’s 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?

Unless otherwise stated, this discussion guide is reprinted with the permission of Random House. Any page references refer to a USA edition of the book, usually the trade paperback version, and may vary in other editions.

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