A pair of parallel stories about the Latter Day Saints – one revealing the faith’s early history from a number of narratives focused around Ann Eliza Young, Prophet Brigham Young’s 19th wife, whose divorce and subsequent crusading public speaking against polygamy split the Saints and was a cause célèbre in late 19th century America.
The second is set in the present day and focuses on the Firsts, a group that separated from the LDS mainstream over the issue of multiple wives, under the leadership of Ann Eliza’s brother. Told from the perspective of Jordan, excommunicated as a teenager for holding hands with one of his sisters, who returns to his roots after his mother is charged with the murder of her husband.
There’s plenty of detail, not just on the Mormons’ religious beliefs, lifestyle and characters from both eras, but also on the early settlement and development of Utah – at the time still a Territory – and the wagon train exodus from the East and emigration from Europe that preceded it.
For me, the murder mystery element was less interesting – serving merely to show Mormon fundamentalism in a 21st century setting.
Amazon.co.uk link: The 19th Wife – David Ebershoff