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Searching for Tamsen Donner (American Lives)by Gabrielle Burton
Synopses & Reviews
Tamsen Donner. For most the name conjures the ill-fated Donner party trapped in the snows of the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846-47. Others might know Tamsen as the stoic pioneer woman who saw her children to safety but stayed with her dying husband at the cost of her own life. For Gabrielle Burton, Tamsen's story, fascinating in its own right, had long seemed something more: the story of a woman's life writ large, one whose impossible balancing of self, motherhood, and marriage spoke to Burton's own experience.
This book tells of Burton's search to solve the mystery of Tamsen Donner for herself. A graceful mingling of history and memoir, Searching for Tamsen Donner follows Burton and her husband, with their five daughters, on her journey along Tamsen's path. From Tamsen's birthplace in Massachusetts to North Carolina, where she lost her first family in the space of three months; to Illinois, where she married George Donner; and finally to the fateful Oregon Trail, Burton recovers one woman's compelling history through a modern-day family's adventure into realms of ultimately timeless experiences. Here Burton has collected and published together for the first time, all seventeen of Tamsen's known letters.
"This is, of course, as much Gabrielle Burton's story as it is that of Tamsen Donner, and as such captures the reader early with its sincerity and idealism, and, indeed, its obsession." Lincoln Journal Star
"[Burton] succeeds where other historians and biographers have failed in uncovering and publishing here all 17 of Donner's known letters from the journey.... Burton's curiosity to speculate and piece together clues as to circumstances surrounding Tamsen's fate...drives the narrative forward as if Burton's own perceived vulnerabilities somehow implicate her in the tragedy. It's the book's final uncoupling of these two parallel lives that is Tamsen Donner's legacy to pioneering woman and Burton's literary triumph." Buffalo News
"History lesson, memoir and intimate family portrait all at once, Searching for Tamsen Donner simultaneously re-creates the 1840s and the 1970s, east to west.... As dramatic and tragic as the story of the Donner Party is, it shares space here with the tender reflections of a mother of five daughters whose filial companionship on a summer road trip long ago bespoke a very different kind of family journey across the American West." Los Angeles Times Book Review
"[Searching for Tamsen Donner] is a thoughtful and engaging blend of history and memoir that inspires the reader to delve further into the Donner party's fate, while at the same time enjoying Burton's struggle to be both a full-time mother and successful writer." Booklist Online
"Arriving just in time for summer road trip planning, Searching for Tamsen Donner is a moving exploration of a legendary American woman through the eyes of a modern heroine." Feminist Review
"Author Gabrielle Burton has created a solid work of history that manages to be a wonderful, touching personal memoir as well." San Diego Union Tribune
Day One, and already she was lying in her journal. It was 1993, Suzanne Roberts had just finished college, and when her friend suggested they hike Californiaandrsquo;s John Muir Trail, the adventure sounded like the perfect distraction from a difficult home life and thoughts about the future. But she never imagined that the twenty-eight-day hike would change her life. Part memoir, part nature writing, part travelogue, Almost Somewhere is Robertsandrsquo;s account of that hike.
John Muir had written of the Sierra Nevada as a andldquo;vast range of light,andrdquo; and this was exactly what Roberts was looking for. But traveling with two girlfriends, one experienced and unflappable and the other inexperienced and bulimic, she quickly discovered that she needed a new frame of reference. Her story of a month in the backcountryandmdash;confronting bears, snowy passes, broken equipment, injuries, and strange menandmdash;is as much about finding a womanandrsquo;s way into outdoor experience as it is about the natural world she so eloquently describes. Candid and funny and, finally, wise, Almost Somewhere is not just the whimsical coming-of-age story of a young woman ill-prepared for a month in the mountains but also the reflection of a distinctly feminine view of nature.and#160; and#160;
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About the Author
Gabrielle Burton is a writer whose numerous projects include the film Manna from Heaven, which she wrote and produced, and the novel Heartbreak Hotel, which won Scribner's 1985 Maxwell Perkins Prize, an award for a first work of fiction. Her writing has appeared in publications such as the New York Times and the Washington Post.
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