Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton (Canada) - (USA)
Pages: 248 pages
Finished: May 25, 2010
First Published: Mar. 9, 2010
Genre: historical fiction, epistolary
Imagine all the roads a woman and a man walk until they reach the road they'll walk together.
Acquired: Received a review copy from Hyperion.
Reason for Reading: The Donner Party has always intrigued me, as it does so many others.
The majority of this book focuses on the The Donner Party's journey, told through the eyes of Tamsen Donner in a journal format and a collection of letters to her sister; eventually the letters stop and the journal begins to be written to the sister. The story starts as the pioneers are hunkered down for the winter in the mountains but does not run in a linear format. Tamsen goes back to the days of her and George Donner's meeting, she also tells her biography before she met George and does likewise for him. The story flips from the present winter conditions where they are trapped back to the day they decided to start their journey and the majority of the book is devoted to telling the tale of these pioneer's voyage along the trail, how they got off the usual path and ended up trapped in the mountains for winter.
Being told from Tamsen's point of view is unique; presenting a hardy, robust, adventurous female pioneer who often has more gumption than some of the men. One becomes attached to Tamsen right from the start. The author has done a wonderful job of creating a character that the reader is invested in and actually hopes for even when historically we know the terrible facts. It isn't until the very end that the cannibalism is dealt with and the author doesn't make a big deal out of it either. She shows how it may have come about. She also shows how three different families, in their own huts, may have handled and been affected by the terrible but life-saving, gruesome act. This part of the story is not sensationalized, it is only described in a few short pages, leaving much to the imagination.
This was a page-turner for me. A quick read, with short journal entries and letters it is so easy to just keep turning the pages! An eye-opening story which I think does the Donner Party a service in the eyes of history. With Tamsen Donner's real journal never having been found this is a story we will always wish we could have a glimpse of her eye-witness accounts and this book satisfies, bringing Tamsen Donner alive again as a brave and determined pioneer woman.