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The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Brideby Daniel James Brown
Monday, June 17, 2013 07:30 PM
Powell's City of Books on Burnside, Portland, OR
Daniel James Brown's The Boys in the Boat (Viking) tells the story of the University of Washington's 1936 eight-oar crew and their epic quest for an Olympic gold medal, a team that transformed the sport and grabbed the attention of millions of Americans. The sons of loggers, shipyard workers, and farmers, the boys defeated elite rivals including the German crew rowing for Adolf Hitler in Berlin.
History at its finest! Brown uses great skill, detail, and atmosphere to dust off the story of the Donner party in this enthralling read. High adventure, suspense, and drama combine with tragedy to make this outstanding work as readable as a novel.
Synopses & Reviews
In April of 1846, Sarah Graves was twenty-one and in love with a young man who played the violin. But she was torn. Her mother, father, and eight siblings were about to disappear over the western horizon forever, bound for California. Sarah could not bear to see them go out of her life, and so days before the planned departure she married the young man with the violin, and the two of them threw their lot in with the rest of Sarah's family. On April 12, they rolled out of the yard of their homestead in three ox-drawn wagons.
Seven months later, after joining a party of emigrants led by George Donner, Sarah and her family arrived at Truckee Lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains just as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. After a series of desperate attempts to cross the mountains, the party improvised cabins and slaughtered what remained of their emaciated livestock. By early December they were beginning to starve.
Sarah's father, a Vermonter, was the only member of the party familiar with snowshoes. Under his instruction, fifteen sets of snowshoes were hastily constructed from oxbows and rawhide, and on December 15, Sarah and fourteen other relatively young, healthy people set out for California on foot, hoping to get relief for the others. Over the next thirty-two days they endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors.
In this gripping narrative, Daniel James Brown takes the reader along on every painful footstep of Sarah's journey. Along the way, he weaves into the story revealing insights garnered from a variety of modern scientific perspectivespsychology, physiology, forensics, and archaeologyproducing a tale that is not only spell-binding but richly informative.
"Brown delivers a skillful, suspenseful study of the Donner Party....A moving man-against-nature tragedy that still resonates today." Kirkus Reviews
"Brown's work gracefully balances graphic depictions of extreme privation with humanizing glimpses of the emigrants' everyday hopes and fears. Brown also skillfully weaves relevant historical, cultural, and scientific information into his chronicle, creating a rich and contextualized background." Library Journal
Book News Annotation:
This historical account of the tragic Donner Party is viewed through the eyes of one of its survivors, a 21-year-old woman who had been married only a few months before the trek to California began. Brown, the author of Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894, tells the story of Sarah Graves' battle for survival through the use of modern psychological, physiological, forensic and archaeological perspectives. General readers will appreciate the use of these modern biology and psychology techniques to explore the motivations and challenges of these pioneers, as well as their fatal miscalculations, in greater depth. Annotation ©2009 Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
In this powerful story, Brown delivers an unforgettable portrait of the heroism, heartbreak, and horror of a pioneer family's perilous journey west from Illinois to California. b&w photo insert.
About the Author
Daniel James Brown is the author of the widely acclaimed 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.
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