Writer reveals her life of secrecy, how she fled from banned Mormon sect.
Daughter of the Saints
DOROTHY ALLRED SOLOMON
(W.W. Norton, $14.95)
“I am the only daughter of my father’s fourth plural wife, 28th of 48 children — a middle kid, you might say.”
At over 11 million members the Church of Christ of Latter-day Saints, better known as the Mormons, is one of the fastest-growing religious movements in the world.
It has a long and controversial history that includes persecution, tragedy, ingenuity, struggle for religious freedom and a peculiar tenet that was formally abolished by the church in 1890 but, to the embarrassment of current leaders, is still defiantly practiced by a number of its fundamentalist followers.
Polygamy, or the principle of plural marriage, had its genesis in a revelation received by founder Joseph Smith and subsequently practiced by Brigham Young and a host of church leaders.
After five decades of practice, it was officially abolished by church manifesto in 1890 under the weight of pressure from the federal government and the desire of Mormons to secure statehood for what is now Utah.
But polygamy has never ceased being practiced among Mormon fundamentalists, and many believe it is growing and flourishing despite being illegal under both state law and church canons.
Understandably, there is a shortage of first-hand, primary source material on the current practice of polygamy. Glimpses can be found in court records or police reports, but mostly the practice is shrouded in myth, rumor and mostly unreliable stories passed from teller to teller.
Thus, this contemporary account written by a woman readed by fifth-generation polygamists is both remarkable and courageous.
It provides a rare insider’s account of growing up in the polygamist culture of a fundamentalist Mormon community in the 20th century. It was a culture of secrecy, silence, deprivation, fear, lies and persecution that ultimately led the author to abandon the group, enter a monogamous marriage and begin a search for her true identity.
It was a culture that precipitated collaboration between federal and state law enforcement authorities, including the FBI and agents of the infamous Sen. Joseph McCarthy, in an effort to prosecute members of the sect.
Indeed, Solomon’s father was imprisoned and family members forced to flee to Mexico, Las Vegas and Montana to escape authorities.
The story is courageous because of the sometimes-violent history of the group. A rival faction assassinated the author’s father, and there are numerous recent stories of violence, including killings, among Mormon fundamentalists.
Speaking out about a group that believes in the “one and only truth” of polygamy and religion is surely courageous.
This award-winning book is a brave, disturbing look into a contemporary religious practice that often forces members to choose between love of family and self-identity. It is a rare glimpse into a rare religion.
Mike Nobles is cofounder of A Gathering of Writers.