I’d like to start this post with a disclaimer that I am simply stating an opinion based of a book written from one person’s research. I also recognize that if you were to write a similar book about my own, or any other religion, surprising ‘facts’ and shocking secrets will surface. That being said, I read this book by this author, and that is what I am basing all opinions from.
I knew next to nothing about the Mormon religion before picking up this book. I had heard rumors about polygamy, but knew about that subject from ads for a reality T.V. show more than anything else. So when we chose this book for book-club, I was curious how I would feel about the non-fiction novel. After finally finishing it, I’d say if you’re looking for a good discussion book, this is it.
Krakauer is an excellent writer, composing a book out of three years of research on the Mormon religion, as well as the Lafferty murders. Because I’ve never been one to finish a non-fiction book quickly, it did take me much longer than usual to complete the novel. There are many characters, and twice as many facts and historical stories. Because of this, if you decide to read Under the Banner of Heaven I suggest not putting it down for long periods of time, like I did.
The book starts out with the murders of Brenda and Erica Lafferty, a 24-year-old mother and her 15-month-old baby. The mother and baby were brutally murdered by two of her brother-in-laws. Both fundamentalist members of the Church of Latter Day Saints, the men claimed God spoke to them directly with instructions to carry out the murders. The novel goes on to share the history of the Mormon religion, weaving it into the Lafferty’s historical murder.
Hearing how the Mormon religion was founded was nothing short of interesting. An appearance of an angel, sacred gold plates buried 1,400 years ago on a hillside, and a peep stone. Oh yeah, and the angel gave Joseph some magic specs so he could decipher the gold plates, as they weren’t written in English. When the 116 translated pages went missing, the angel did turn up the plates again in the hillside, but no cool specs this time. So Joseph had to put the peep stone in a hat, block out light, and then the words magically appeared to him. In the dark of the hat. The pages spoke about the history of people on earth, and God’s true message. I was appalled to hear the historical explanations why certain people have different skin color.
And then there’s the history of polygamy. And hearing that Joseph had somewhere between thirty-three and forty-eight wives, some as young as 14, commanding they marry him or face eternal damnation. Plural marriage was a main theme in the book, as that is a huge dividing line between the LDS and the fundamentalist LDS communities. Many fundamentalists believe the church went south when it gave in to the United States government, outlawing polygamy.
Mormons believe in having a direct line to God. This means, at any given time, someone from the church can receive a revelation. Some FLDS also believe in blood atonement. Couple this with a history of feuding (both with the government and within the church itself) and you’ve got an interesting account of history. And, ending the novel with a well-placed interview and quote, Krakauer does an excellent job of telling it.