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Impatient with Desireby Gabrielle Burton
I so loved this sad novel, told in letters and journal entries by Tamsen Donner, wife of the leader of the Donner Party. It broke my heart to read about her wanderlust and her worry that her actions may have condemned her daughters to death. Impatient with Desire still lingers in the edges of my mind.
Synopses & Reviews
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 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--starving 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 Sierra Nevadas 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 California-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.
"The story of the Donner Party is sketchily retold in Burton's new novel, which reimagines the tragedy through the eyes of Tamsen Donner, 45-year-old wife of George Donner, the leader of the party that, in 1846, set out from Springfield, Ill., for California and wound up snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the winter. In journal entries and letters to her sister, Tamsen dutifully recounts her early life in Massachusetts, Donner's courtship, their decision to move to California, and the blunders that ate up time and trapped their party for four months in the mountain snow, where Tamsen proves to be a pillar of strength for her injured husband, their family, and the other families depending upon them for survival. The narrative builds to what readers will be most curious about: how did the cannibalism come about? The answer is supplied by Tamsen in a matter-of-fact way that is in keeping with the other horrors she describes. In the end, the narrative's feminist trappings feel forced, and the result is a novel that only fitfully fulfils its goal of dramatizing the famous events from a new point of view." Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
- Impatient with Desire is this season's Publisher's Pick. Special terms available.
- The author's extensive research draws upon correspondence that, until recently, was seen by few outside the Donner descendants.
Burton's novel reimagines the Donner party tragedy through the eyes of Tamsen Donner, wife of George Donner, the leader of the group that, in 1846, set out for California and wound up snowbound in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the winter.
The Donner Party
You know how some died.
Here's how some lived. "My heart is big with hope and impatient with desire." --Tamsen Donner, a letter to her sister In the spring of 1846, Tamsen Donner, her husband, George, their five daughters, and eighty other pioneers headed west on the California-Oregon Trail in eager anticipation of new lives in California. Everything that could go wrong did, and an American legend was born. The Donner Party. We think we know their story--starving 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 to stunning life a woman--and a love story--behind the myth. Historians have long known that Tamsen kept a journal, though it was never found. In Impatient with Desire, Burton imagines this lost journal--and paints a picture of a remarkable heroine in an extraordinary situation.
About the Author
Gabrielle Burton is an award-winning novelist and screenwriter whose numerous projects include her first novel, HEARTBREAK HOTEL, which won Scribner's 1985 Maxwell Perkins Prize for exceptional writing. Her writing has appeared in publications such as the Washington Post, and the New York Times. She lives in Venice, California.
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