Tag Archives: Historical Fiction

Review: Impatient with Desire

Impatient with Desire
By Gabrielle Burton
March 9, 2010

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.

Review: Half of a Yellow Sun

Note from Ti: I am going to try something new with this review. My reviews will have three parts now: the summary, something that I am calling “the short of it” and then a section for my thoughts.

The “short of it” will be a few sentences about the book. Basically these brief sentences will indicate whether or not I enjoyed the book. Some readers like to know up-front if a book is worth reading so there you go! Consider it a mini-review of sorts.

Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Publisher: Random House Inc
Pub. Date: September 2007
ISBN-13: 9781400095209
Here’s the blurb from Barnes and Noble:

“With astonishing empathy and the effortless grace of a natural storyteller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie weaves together the lives of three characters swept up in the turbulence of the decade. Thirteen-year-old Ugwu is employed as a houseboy for a university professor full of revolutionary zeal. Olanna is the professor’s beautiful mistress, who has abandoned her life of privilege in Lagos for a dusty university town and the charisma of her new lover. And Richard is a shy young Englishman in thrall to Olanna’s twin sister, an enigmatic figure who refuses to belong to anyone. As Nigerian troops advance and the three must run for their lives, their ideals are severely tested, as are their loyalties to one another.

Epic, ambitious, and triumphantly realized, Half of a Yellow Sun is a remarkable novel about moral responsibility, about the end of colonialism, about ethnic allegiances, about class and race—and the ways in which love can complicate them all. Adichie brilliantly evokes the promise and the devastating disappointments that marked this time and place, bringing us one ofthe most powerful, dramatic, and intensely emotional pictures of modern Africa that we have ever had.”

The Short of It:

Tightly woven, character driven novel about the fight for Biafra’s freedom. Although this novel is fiction, it is based on historic events and achingly real at times. I could not put it down.

My Thoughts:

There are so many things to say about this novel. I was completely swept away to another time and place while reading it. It basically follows the lives of three main characters during the Nigerian-Biafran War (1967-1970). This was a brutal war where the Igbo or Ibo (eebo) were slaughtered just for being Ibo. As the world falls apart around them, Olanna and Odenigbo who have become accustomed to the finer things in life, are stripped of all their worldly possessions and forced to focus on survival.

Ugwu, the boy servant who works for Olanna and Odenigbo, ended up being my favorite character. His innocence and boyishness is so well drawn. There were times where I just wanted to shake him and say, “Silly Ugwu! What were you thinking?” We really get to know Ugwu and his thoughts as he cares for Baby, Olanna and Odenigbo’s young daughter. Ugwu is a constant reminder of the class differences within Nigeria. Although he is often considered part of the family, he quietly takes his place as the houseboy and never questions his place within the household.

There are other characters within the novel that I enjoyed as well. Richard, the Englishman that falls in love with Olanna’s twin sister, Kainene. Richard is a misfit of sorts. A struggling writer who believes in the freedom fight and will do anything to win Kainene over. Although educated, he struggles with his place in the world.

Adichie’s portrayal of a war-torn state is vividly real at times. There are some violent scenes within the book and depictions of rape. I do not have a strong stomach when it comes to rape but these scenes accurately depict the horrors that the Ibo people were forced to live with during their quest for freedom.

My book group met last night to discuss the book and it was a good discussion. Most fell in love with the characters and found the writing quite easy to follow. Although the novel is 500+ pages, you do not notice its length as you are reading it. Although it deals with a heavy subject matter, there are moments of hopefulness and even humor at times. I highly recommend this novel.

To read more about Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, click here to visit her website. Also, Jill over at Fizzy Thoughts recently reviewed this book as well. She and I are on the same reading kick right now. Click here to check out Jill’s review.