This book had been laying around my apartment for weeks. My roommate had dived into it and had told me how fascinated she was by the world it introduced her to. But still I managed to find reasons not to pick it up. Until I saw the movie on Lifetime. I only saw half, but the movie still gave me enough information about what might be in the book to draw me in.
My roommate had been blown away that there might still be polygamy in the United States today. I, on the other hand, remembered the case in Texas a few years ago where the state went into a compound and took all the children into child protective services. But still the news report in that case had been surreal and not too in-depth as to what that lifestyle really looked like. This book did not skimp on the details. While a work of fiction, the 19th Wife does try to stick as closely as it can to providing a historical account of the life of the “19th” wife of Brigham Young, one of the earliest leaders of the Mormon Church, Ann Eliza Young. Ann Eliza, after growing up in the early Mormon church and polygamy left as she sought a divorce from her religious leader. Afterward, Ann Eliza dedicated her life fighting against polygamy and lobbied Congress to stop its practice in the United States.
The book does a fabulous job of informing and drawing the reader into Ann Eliza’s story. The contemporary one that accompanies it, however, does not have that same strength. The story becomes at time a little contrived and this is where the movie provides a nice compliment to the book. The Lifetime Movie version of this book primarily focuses on the contemporary mystery of who killed one the the leading men in this old-fashioned polygamous community. There are just touches of Ann Eliza’s story to give a touch of context for the struggles of several of the characters to break away from this lifestyle.
My decision to read this book and then to watch the movie again in full could not have come at a better time considering TLC just came out with a new series called Sister Wives which introduced Americans to a polygamous family that has decided to share their lifestyle with the world. In this opening episode, the father Kody announces he is courting his potential fourth wife to his children with the three wives he has already been married to for over a decade. This show, for obvious reasons, makes a great companion to the book and movie if the topic of polygamy interests you because it present you with the facts about real life in such a family, though at times it does make things seem more perfect and ideal than they could really be.