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.