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 forbidden 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 an “unusual and beautiful novel,” said reviewer Jodi Kilcup. “The author has pulled off a literary feat, giving us a coming-of-age story, a harrowing account of immigration in 19th-century America, an exploration of religious faith and motivation, and a chilling and suspenseful depiction of conditions that can lead to the unspeakable in human behavior, all set in a time that is meticulously researched. This novel is a rich reading experience, from a gifted and sensitive writer, a crafter of memorable characters and the driver of this unstoppable locomotive of a story.”
“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.”
LeCheminant is descended from a number of Mormon polygamists, including a great-great-great-grandmother who wed Mormon prophets Joseph Smith and Brigham Young, although she was married to another man.
The author’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.
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