What do we really know about modern practicing polygamists — not fictional ones like the Henrickson family on HBO’s Big Love? We’ve seen the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints in the news, the underage brides in pioneer dresses on a Texas ranch. But the FLDS is just one of many groups that have broken with mainstream Mormonism to follow those parts of Joseph Smith’s doctrine disavowed by the LDS Church.
Gaining unprecedented access to these communities, journalist Sanjiv Bhattacharya reveals a shadow country teeming with small town messiahs, dark secrets, and stories both heartbreaking and strange. Polygamy’s dark side — incest, forced marriages, and physical abuse — is laid bare. But Bhattacharya also finds warmth in the fundamentalist diaspora and even finds himself taking an ideological stand for polygamy’s legalization.
More than just an expose of Mormon polygamy, Secrets and Wives is the personal journey of a foreign atheist and liberal, a stranger in a strange land who grapples with hard questions about marriage, monogamy, and the very nature of faith.
Though fundamentalist Mormon polygamy is portrayed in a benign light on TV (e.g., Big Love), the reality is for the most part much grimmer... This is a riveting read for both Bhattacharya’s wry and heartfelt style and the nature of the material.
Many of us recognize the stock images of polygamy: the child brides from isolated compounds, like the Yearning for Zion ranch, and the suburban homemakers on television, yearning for their husbands. In Secrets and Wives, British journalist Sanjiv Bhattacharya pushes past these caricatures to show what Mormon polygamists are really like.
[Bhattacharya’s] access into polygamist compounds is impressive, and the subjects that accept him into their home are given ample room to make the case for or against the practice. Ultimately the author finds polygamists to admire, polygamists who are amusing "nutjobs," and polygamists who are utterly terrifying.