Heartbreak of Mormon polygamy captured in new book
SALEM, Oregon — A new novel brings to life the tragedy, religious fervor and resiliency of 19th-century Mormons.
The Gates of Eden was inspired by the author’s great-great-grandmother who, at age 14, sailed away from a life of child labor in England, headed for Brigham Young’s Promised Land. She joined the ill-fated Martin Company and pulled a handcart over several mountain ranges to the wilderness kingdom, leaving a parent on the trail. Upon her arrival, the girl waited on the streets for someone to take her in. Within months, she became the second plural wife of a man almost four decades her senior.
In The Gates of Eden, the fictional Josephine Bell wavers between faith and doubt and is torn by love and fear. Against a backdrop of rising violence and haunting tragedy, Josephine’s struggle to find her own path takes her to unexpected places.
The novel is grounded in three of the most tragic and colorful years in the history of the American West. Between 1856 and 1858, hundreds of impoverished Mormon immigrants perished on the handcart trail. Many arrived in Utah to a fiery Mormon Reformation, with its teaching that plural marriage is a requirement for entry into the Mormon heaven. Those years also saw federal soldiers marching on Utah, determined to abolish polygamy and the prophet’s political theocracy, and the brutal Mountain Meadows Massacre in southern Utah, where much of the story is set.
“The Gates of Eden is a sweeping tale rich in historical detail,” says IndieReader. “LeCheminant is a gifted storyteller, her prose elegant and finely crafted.” The book “is a story of hope and survival … a testament to the monumental strength and faith of the early Western pioneers, especially the women, and the extraordinary courage they showed in taming the wilderness in their quest for a better life.”
The San Francisco Book Review called The Gates of Eden a “well-researched, beautifully written historical novel” and urged readers, “Don’t miss this fine book.”
“My great-great-grandmother left behind a few handwritten pages about her life,” said author Nadene LeCheminant. “The story has always intrigued me, and three years ago I set out to discover her world. I perused hundreds of pioneer journals and letters and pored over old newspapers and sermons. I walked part of the Mormon Trail, pushed a handcart, chatted with quilters and butter churners and blacksmiths, explored pioneer cabins, rode a horse and traveled aboard an old train. I also searched for traces of my great-great-grandmother’s cabin in southern Utah.”
Nadene LeCheminant has degrees in history and art from Utah State University. As a university writer and magazine editor, she has been recognized with eight top-tier CASE writing awards, and as a public speaker, she has provided communications strategies to national and regional nonprofit organizations.
The author is descended from a number of Mormon polygamists, including a great-great-great-grandmother who wed Mormon prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young.
LeCheminant’s love of the southern Utah desert — the backdrop for much of The Gates of Eden — was nurtured on a bare-bones survival trip, during which she walked several hundred miles across the Utah wilderness without a sleeping bag or tent.
Special features, historical images, and a book description and author biography can be found at nadenelecheminant.com.
Mormons, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Mormon Church / 19th century, Victorian England, Oregon Trail, Mormon Trail, American West, Utah / immigrants, pioneers, polygamy, plural marriage, Mormon women / Mormon Reformation, Utah War, Mountain Meadows Massacre