Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Guest Review: The Indifferent Stars Above

Summary: In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of pioneers led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes, and, over the next thirty-two days, endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors. In this gripping narrative, New York Times bestselling author Daniel James Brown sheds new light on one of the most legendary events in American history. Following every painful footstep of Sarah’s journey with the Donner Party, Brown produces a tale both spellbinding and richly informative. -- William Morrow

My father reviewed  THE BOYS IN THE BOAT: NINE AMERICANS AND THEIR EPIC QUEST FOR GOLD AT THE 1936 BERLIN OLYMPICS by Daniel James Brown a few years ago. He couldn't stop talking about this book and I know he's not alone with his praise. My husband listened to the audio version and thought it was fantastic too. I recently discovered that the author wrote a book titled THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE: THE HARROWING SAGA OF THE DONNER PARTY earlier in his writing career that is being re-released, and I thought my dad might enjoy this one. Here are his thoughts:

THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE: THE HARROWING SAGE OF THE DONNER PARTY is author Daniel James Brown’s take on the harrowing journey of 80+ people in route to California in 1846. The Donner Party was trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains during the winter of 1846-47 and resorted to cannibalism to survive the ordeal. At the end of the journey 47 members of the party died.

Many books have been written about the Donner Party, but Brown takes a unique approach. He chose Sarah Graves, a 21 year-old pioneer from Illinois, as his main character and narrated the story from her point of view. Sarah started the journey with her new husband, mother and father and eight siblings. After getting stranded in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the travelers became starving and desperate and Sara and 14 others set out from the camp to find help while mothers and small children stayed at a campsite. Over the next 32 days they suffered unbelievable horrors. During the ordeal, Sarah lost her parents and several siblings, ate companions that died, watched as others ate her husband and father and lost the entire family fortune. Sarah did survive, married two more times and gave birth to six children.

While history has painted a picture of the survivors of the Donner party as cannibals and murderers, Brown attempts to humanize the pioneers. He explains the dire conditions they faced including limited water and food, difficult terrain, poor sanitation and Indian raids. Brown suggests that hypothermia, hyperthermia and dementia plagued both the group seeking help and the one at the campsite and may have led to the cannibalism. He also explains the poor decision that was made to follow the “shortcut route” suggested by publisher Lansford Warren Hastings without fully understanding the perils involved. They also were not aware that Hastings was somewhat of a con man.

Brown apparently did a tremendous amount of research to update the story of the Donner Party and provided significant detail as to what the pioneers may have encountered. He provided an interesting perspective by stepping outside the narrative to comment on the social and medical issues impacting the tragedy. For example, he discussed the science of starvation, the effects of both hypothermia and hyperthermia, birth control and hygiene at the time and the psychology of trauma. 

THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE is a suspenseful story about a group of pioneers who were filled with hopes of a better life; but because of ignorance, misplaced trust and extreme weather conditions suffered unimaginable disaster and death.

Daniel James Brown is the author of The Boys in the Boat and Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894. He lives in the country east of Redmond, Washington, with his wife and two daughters.
Find out more about Daniel at his website and connect with him on Facebook.

Thanks to Booking Pap Pap for his fine review and to TLC Book Tours and the publisher for providing a review copy of this book.

Purchase Links

Tuesday, September 29th: Ramblings from a Reading Writer Who Rescues Birds and Beasts
Wednesday, October 7th: Jancee Reads
Monday, October 19th: Booksie’s Blog
Monday, October 26th: My Book Strings
Tuesday, October 27th: 50 Books Project
Wednesday, October 28th: Booking Mama
Thursday, October 29th: Man of La Book
Thursday, October 29th: Books on the Table
Friday, October 30th: Bibliophiliac
Tuesday, November 3rd: Books & Tea
Wednesday, November 4th: The Cue Card
Thursday, November 5th: Read. Write. Repeat.


bermudaonion said...

I'm one of those who loved The Boys in the Boat so I've been wondering about this one. It sounds totally different but really good too!

trish said...

I'm strangely fascinated by the Donner party, but I've never read about what starvation and the extreme cold might have done to their psyche. It's nice to see a book that brings some compassion and science to the situation.

Thanks for being on the tour!

Books on the Table said...

Great review by your dad! Now I need to enlist my family to do some guest reviews. :) Our whole family -- three generations, male and female -- all loved The Boys in the Boat. I enjoyed The Indifferent Stars Above, but I'm not sure that's one for the entire family -- I am passing it along to my husband.

thecuecard said...

Ditto that: Great review by your Dad. I just read The Indifferent Stars Above for the Tour too and I think your father captured all the important points. You should keep his reviews coming!