Friday, April 9, 2010

Review: Impatient with Desire

Summary: 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.

Tamsen Eustis Donner, born in 1801, taught school, wrote poetry, painted, botanized, and was fluent in French. At twenty-three, she sailed alone from Massachusetts to North Carolina when respectable women didn’t travel alone. Years after losing her first husband, Tully, she married again for love, this time to George Donner, a prosperous farmer, and in 1846, they set out for California with their five youngest children. Unlike many women who embarked reluctantly on the Oregon Trail, Tamsen was eager to go. Later, trapped in the mountains by early snows, she had plenty of time to contemplate the wisdom of her decision and the cost of her wanderlust.

Historians have long known that Tamsen kept a journal, though it was never found. In Impatient with Desire, Burton draws on years of historical research to vividly imagine this lost journal—and paints a picture of a remarkable heroine in an extraordinary situation. Tamsen’s unforgettable journey takes us from the cornfields of Illinois to the dusty Oregon Trail to the freezing Sierra Nevada Mountains, where she was forced to confront an impossible choice.

Impatient with Desire is a passionate, heart-wrenching story of courage, hope, and love in hardship, all told at a breathless pace. Intimate in tone and epic in scope, Impatient with Desire is absolutely hypnotic. -- Hyperion Voice

When I saw IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE by Gabrielle Burton on the monthly Library Thing Early Reviewers list, I immediately requested it because I thought the book sounded very interesting. I'm completely fascinated by the idea of an entire family leaving behind the relative comfort of their home to head to the unknown West (I guess you could say that I'm not exactly adventurous.) But when I was notified that I would be receiving a copy of IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE, I admit I had to do a double-take. Based on the book's title, it didn't sound like one that I would have asked for -- I mean it does kind of sound like a romance book. It wasn't until I re-read the book's description and remembered that it was the story of the Donner Party that I realized I was very excited to actually be getting a copy of this historical novel.

For those of you who don't know about the Donner Party (and that included me before reading this novel), they were a group of around 90 pioneers who wanted to head West via the California-Oregon Trail in 1846. Their trip didn't go exactly as according to plan, and they became trapped in the snow for over four months in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Almost half of the group ended up dying and the rest had to do whatever they could to stay alive (and some of those things were pretty gruesome to say the least.)

Needless to say, the story behind these families is an incredible one. I certainly think the Donner Party story proves that truth can be stranger than fiction. Having said that, IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE is a definitely a work of fiction -- but it is heavily based on the few known facts about the Donner Party. The rest of the story is made up by Ms. Burton, and I have to say that I think she did an excellent job. The story felt real to me, the characters seemed very believable, and overall I thoroughly appreciated this book.

One very pleasant surprise for me was Ms. Burton's writing style. I don't know that I had a lot of expectations going into the book, but I was extremely impressed with how Ms. Burton told the story of the Donner Family. I thought this book was very well written, and the presentation was more literary than I was expecting. I appreciated how Ms. Burton went back and forth between the present (which was really 1846) and the times leading up to the decision for the Donners to head West. Her transitions were smooth, yet very interesting. I also liked how the back and forth nature of the story provided the necessary information for further character development.

I am in total awe of Tamsen Donner as a woman. She gives a new name to strength and resilience. While I'm still not sure I totally understood her need to put her entire family (including her very young daughter) in danger to head out on the California-Oregon trail, there is no doubt that Tamsen was a very special woman. She did everything in her power for her husband and children even when it meant going without for herself. Parts of this book and Tamsen's story absolutely broke my heart, but I still think I was left with a message of hope when I finished it.

I think the background to this novel is almost as interesting as the book itself. The author, Gabrielle Burton has had a long-time fascination with the Donner Party and especially Tamsen Donner. You could even call it her passion. She has researched the Donner Party for years and has even walked along the trails that the Tamsen Party did in 1946. I think her devout interest in Tamsen Donner is very evident throughout the book. Ms. Burton even says in the Author's Note section, "What I wanted to do was capture Tamsen Donner's spirit." After reading IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE, I can definitely attest that Ms. Burton did indeed capture Tamsen's spirit!

Make sure you come back on Sunday because Ms. Burton will be stopping by with a guest post for my Book Club Exchange feature!

Thanks to the Library Thing Early Reviewers Program for sending me a copy of this novel.


Anonymous said...

I'm very eager to read this book. Fascinating subject! Thanks for sharing!

Amy said...

I really want to read this one, so I'm happy to see all of the positive reviews! :)

Jamie said...

This sounds like a fascinating read! I'm adding it to my wishlist!

Sandy Nawrot said...

It does sound like a bodice-ripper doesn't it? I would think, from a marketing perspective, they could have come up with a better title, but aside from that, the reviews for this one have been all very good. There is sort of a built-in draw for a book about the Donner party anyway! I will look forward to hearing from the author!

bermudaonion said...

The title of this one threw me off too. Does it fit now that you've read the book? When I read books like that I always wonder if I'd have the kind of strength those people did, and I usually conclude that I wouldn't.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

This has to be the worst title in history! I would never never even pick up this book if I had not seen what it was actually about!

Debbie said...

I don't have a Kindle or a Nook, because I am still a fan of the BOOK, but with a title like that, it would be nice to hide it (when you're on a plane)
I live in Nevada, and anytime we travel to California (which is often) we go over "Donner Pass", so we are very familiar with the Donner Party. I can't wait to read it tho.

April said...

I am totally clueless on the topic of this book (the Donner party) however your wonderful review really makes me want to grab a copy, Julie!!!

Tribute Books said...

Good review,will try. Thanks!

Jo-Jo said...

Great review Julie...I definitely need to add this one to my list.

Carin Siegfried said...

Oooh, I read this last week and I loved it too!

gabrielle burton said...

Dear Julie, First of all I want to thank you so much for your warm thoughtful review of my novel. It pleases me very much that the people became real to you, especially Tamsen. I have to admit I'm both heartened and distressed by some of the comments you've received. Heartened because they're interested in reading it, but distressed because of their antipathy to the title. Sandy, Melody, Bermuda Onion, and especially Rhapsody and Debbie, let me explain why I picked that title and what it means to me. When Tamsen Donner was 23, she sailed on a great ship from MA to NC for a teaching job at a time when respectable women didn't travel alone. She had promised her sister she'd tell all the details and mid trip, she does, then writes, "My heart is big with hope and impatient with desire." I have always loved that line because aren't all our hearts big with hope and impatient with desire for one thing or another? In the book's context, it first just means youthful eagerness with the emphasis on desire, but later on in unforeseen unexpected circumstances, it takes on a darker meaning with the emphasis on impatience. I do so hope you'll read the book and never ever feel you have to hide it from someone's view. Tamsen Donner is one of my heroines and it's my fervent hope to honor her. Julie, that's why your review means a lot to me. Also I loved that you easily understood the book though it's not linear. One of the great challenges in writing this story was to capture the mental deterioration that comes with hunger while still giving the reader some hope.
All best, Gabrielle Burton

Jenny Girl said...

Wow! First off I'm not concerned about the title becuase I the cover is gorgeous. Plus those things don't really bother me.
This story interests me becuase I enjoy reading the woman's point of view and I have never read anything about the Donner party. Tamsen sounds like a interesting character so I am eager to this this.
And for Gabrielle, I can see why you chose that as the title, but only after the explanation. Noe it fits. That is a lovely quote though. Thanks for the insight and recommendation ladies :)