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 perspectives-psychology, physiology, forensics, and archaeology-producing 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
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.
“An ideal pairing of talent and material... Engrossing.” —Mary Roach, New York Times Book Review
"Brown draws from the many previously published accounts of the tragedy... but he tells the tale with a novelist's touch." —Boston Globe
Reminiscent of Into Thin Air, Miracle in the Andes, and the works of Tim OBrien (The Things They Carried, Going After Cacciato) and Douglas Brinkley (The Wilderness Warrior, The Great Deluge), The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown (Under a Flaming Sky) reveals the tragic story of the doomed Donner party, as seen through the prism of one young woman who survived.
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.
Read an exclusive essay by Daniel James Brown