Review: Impatient with Desire

Impatient with Desire
By Gabrielle Burton
Hyperion
March 9, 2010
256pp   

Here’s the blurb from the publisher:   

A great adventure. A haunting tragedy.  An enduring love.   

In the spring of 1846, Tamsen Donner, her husband, George, their five daughters, and eighty other pioneers headed to California on the California-Oregon Trail in eager anticipation of new lives out West. Everything that could go wrong did, and an American legend was born.   

The Donner Party. We think we know their story—pioneers trapped in the mountains performing an unspeakable act to survive—but we know only that one harrowing part of it. Impatient with Desire brings us answers to the unanswerable question: What really happened in the four months the Donners were trapped in the mountains? And it brings to stunning life a woman—and a love story—behind the myth.   

 The Short of It:   

 Burton’s rendition of this tale is both heartbreaking and hopeful.   

The Rest of It:  

Impatient with Desire was an interesting read. Burton’s tale is based on historic fact, but she had fun with some of the details and switched them around a bit to suit her. I’m glad that she approached the novel in this manner because we all know how the Donner party turned out. There is so little to go on as far as what actually happened but she used what she could find and built a story around it.   

The story is told through Tamsen Donner and her journal entries. The format worked for me and it gave me a clear picture of the timeframe involved, how many days had passed, etc. Burton’s use of flashbacks was very effective. A certain phrase or image often sends Tamsen back to a happier time. As she struggles to feed her children and care for her wounded husband, we are given the story in bits and pieces. How they came to the decision to head to California, the folks they lost along the way, etc.   

The conditions were horrid. Scores of people died. Much of the book is spent recording these deaths. This part was a tad tedious as there were just so many deaths. However, I imagine that this is how it was for those families. Trying to give the dead the respect that they deserve, knowing full well that there would be some tough decisions to make later.   

As you know from history, the Donner party resorted to cannibalism. Burton handles this part of the story quite well. The level of desperation is great at this point, and there seems to be no other option. So for those that are a bit squeamish about the subject, don’t let that deter you from picking up this book. As dire as their situation is, the story is hopeful. The passages where Tamsen cares for her husband and children are very touching. The love of a mother runs deep. That’s all I can say.   

This booked has piqued my interest in the Donner party and what happened during that fateful trip. If you like historical fiction, you will enjoy this one but it is very brief and you will probably want to read more about their experiences afterward, as this book just touches the surface.  Of course, it’s fictionalized to a degree so although some of the characters actually did exist, the story that surrounds them is the creation of the author.   

Source: This review copy was sent to me in conjunction with Library Thing’s Early Reviewer program.

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22 thoughts on “Review: Impatient with Desire”

  1. Dear Ti,
    Thank you for your thoughtful review of Impatient with Desire. All the characters in my book actually existed and generally I stuck close to the known facts about people, routes, and dates, though I occasionally deviated for dramatic reasons. So much is unknown and will remain a mystery, yet I think we all can imagine to some extent what it may have been like. Though as a mother, it’s painful to imagine. If you want to read more, Kristin Johnson’s Donner blog–donnerblog.blogspot.com–has the up to date research. Daniel James Brown’s new book, The Indifferent Stars Above, weaves current forensics and archeology into his novel. I appreciate your support. All best, Gabrielle
    PS Would you like a signed copy for a giveaway?

  2. What a great review Ti. I admit that until recently I did not know much about the Donner Party, only snide remarks I have heard people make here and there. It is definitely an interesting story.

  3. I grew up in Reno, NV, and so the story of the Donner Part was part of our school curriculum, and has long haunted me. A book that I read nearly 15 years ago in middle school, but that has stuck with me nonetheless, is “Ordeal by Hunger” by George R. Stewart, which discusses in depth the story of the Donner Party. You should definitely check it out if you’re still interested in this subject.

    Nice review! And nice blog too!

  4. I’m planning on reading this book soon. Les at Lesley’s Book Nook reviewed it the other day. I’ve been interested in the Donner story for a long time too. Glad to hear your thoughts on the book, Ti.

  5. I find it interesting that the title makes the novel sound like a bodice-ripper! Despite that, I think I would like this book. I am fascinated by historical fiction, particular novels that are based on a particular true story. Often, this type of read will cause me to get on the Internet and go on a rampage, trying to find out more. Great review Ti!

  6. It is nice to hear about a historical fiction book that ISN”T about the Tudors!!! : )

    I remember being fascinated by the book “Alive,” which had them resorting to cannibalism too. When you read about it in context, it seems like a reasonable action.

  7. Very nice review, Ti. I thought this was a very good book and I’m anxious to read more about the Donner Party. My husband and I have been talking a lot about the subject and I’m planning to buy Desperate Passage by Ethan Rarick and Gabrielle’s Searching for Tamsen Donner. You can read my review here, if you like.

  8. I’m really curious about this one Ti, so was glad to see your review. I think you’re right, than once I read it, I’ll want to know more of the truth.

  9. I just watched a really interesting show about the Donner party. So many bad decisions were made, and they were so badly led; they should never have found themselves in that situation. And if, when help finally came to those who were stranded, they had come with enough help to get everyone out, there still would not have been anyone who had to resort to cannibalism. Just tragic.

  10. Growing up in California and driving over the Donner Pass on the way to Lake Tahoe vacations as a kid, I’ve always been fascinated by the story of the Donner party. Maybe this is a good first book for me to read on the subject. Thanks for the review 🙂

  11. Growing up, my family always spent weekends and weeks at a time camping up near Donner Pass. Often, we would go see the memorial and walk some of the Donner trail. It’s a historical story that has always interested me as a result. I definitely will have to look for this one. Thank you for the great review, Ti.

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