Impatient with Desire: A Novel

( 11 )

Overview

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 ...

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Jan Stuart
Burton seeks to exhume the humanity in the story of the Donner party, an episode that has been warped into American-history porn. She succeeds on several fronts, with a fictional reimagining at once gripping and off-center.
—The New York Times
Publishers Weekly
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. (Mar.)
Kirkus Reviews
A 45-year-old wife and mother chronicles the Donner Party debacle along the Oregon Trail. The horrific circumstances of the party's snowbound months in the Sierra Nevadas during the winter of 1846-47 are well known, but many specifics, including those surrounding the notorious incidents of cannibalism, remain enduring mysteries. Burton (Heartbreak Hotel, 1999, etc.) sets out to imagine and reconstruct those awful last months and to convey them in the voice of someone who was there: Tamsen Donner, who attempted to protect her injured husband George and her five young daughters under inconceivable duress. Told mainly in unsent letters to her sister, Tamsen's narrative is harrowingly matter-of-fact as she records the ever-rising death toll in the original group of 87 pioneers, details the ever-increasing privations and recounts the ever-more-desperate measures needed to survive. The novel's strength lies in its evocation of domestic details, but the fiercely loyal marital and maternal love at the book's heart might have tugged the heartstrings more if the author had been able to resist sentimental anachronistic flourishes. For example, Tamsen, a proto-feminist who has the minister leave "obey" out of her wedding vows, expresses ideas about and sympathy for Native Americans that seem more appropriate to 2010 than to 1846. As a result, the book feels rigged and partisan, a hagiography that happens to be written in first person. Vividly imagined and well-researched, but rendered in miscalculated tones.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781401341015
  • Publisher: Hyperion
  • Publication date: 3/9/2010
  • Pages: 248
  • Sales rank: 1,479,083
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet 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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Read an Excerpt

Impatient With Desire

A NOVEL
By Gabrielle Burton

Hyperion

Copyright © 2010 Gabrielle Burton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4013-4101-5


Chapter One

1846

Imagine all the roads a woman and a man walk until they reach the road they'll walk together.

I never intended to marry again after Tully died. It wasn't for lack of chances, but that's nothing to boast about. In Ohio, and in Illinois, even an outspoken woman like me has her pick of men. Most of the men were barely older than my Thomas would have been had he lived. Some women marry those boys, and I say to each her own, but young or old were not for me. I thought I had buried my heart with Tully.

I met George Donner in a cornfield, and the beginning wasn't auspicious. I had stripped an ear of corn for my students, discovered a larva, and put it on my finger for them to see.

"Corn borer larva," I said. "It's the larva of a moth. If unchecked, this little thing will feed on and destroy the hardiest crop of corn, potatoes, or beans."

As my students examined the tiny worm crawling on my finger, I looked up to see a tall gentleman in his fifties watching me intently. When I met his eyes, he said, "You need permission to be in this field, ma'am."

How many tall gentlemen have hectored me about one thing or another in my lifetime? I drew myself up to my full height, forcing myself to speak civilly because of the children.

"I am the teacher, sir. My students are gathering botanical specimens."

He considered that a moment, then said, "I'll still need to know when you're here, ma'am. When the corn gets taller, I may have to send in a search party for you."

My students snickered. I am hardly taller than some of them, but I've never equated height with strength or virtue, and certainly not with good manners. I was about to give this gentleman a piece of my mind when I noticed how his eves crinkled as he smiled, how benign and good-natured he looked, and yes, how handsome he was.

"Never underestimate the power of small beings, children," I said, and not breaking gaze with him, I squashed the borer between my fingers.

His smile grew broader, and he made a small bow.

"George Donner, ma'am."

I smiled and bowed back.

"Tamsen Eustis Dozier, sir."

Here in the mountains surrounded by snow, I have had occasion to remember that golden day, the corn rustling, the sun shining on all of us, the giggling children looking from me to him and back again as we smiled at each other, really one could not help smiling at this genial man. I remember writing my sister, Betsey, soon after we married, "I find my new husband a kind friend who does all in his power to promote my happiness & I have as fair a prospect for a pleasant old age as anyone."

The first part remains true to this day; there has never been a time I wasn't happy to see George walk in the door.

He always told the story of our first meeting the same way. "She came into my fields looking for specimens," he said and, after a pause, "and I'm the specimen she found."

For both of us, time stopped for a moment that day.

Now time has stopped in quite a different way. Instead of a golden moment being suspended, each day is relentlessly endless, relentlessly the same. During the day I move in ceaseless activity. I have never had less to do and each day it takes me longer to do it, and still there are hours left over to fill. At night when everyone sleeps, I try to make sense of it all. Try to retain hope. Try to pass the time.

I must sleep. Sitting here at the table thinking or writing hour after hour while the others sleep or lying on my platform listening to their sighs and groans and caught breaths, it seems I never sleep. But then I awaken with dread, and it is morning with another day of interminable hours of unbidden intimacy.

We came here November 2nd, 1846. The day before, we were trying to outrun a sudden fierce snowstorm, my sister-in-law, Elizabeth, and I and our older children walking ahead of the wagon to spare the oxen, our eves on the looming mountains. My little Frances was bravely trudging along, and I said to her, "Every step we take gets us closer to California." The huge flakes fell faster, thicker, and suddenly a sharp crack rent the air, I turned, saw the broken axle, the wagon heaving sideways, started running, screaming, "The babies," but George and Jacob were already pitching things out of the overturned wagon. They reached Georgia first, screaming, scared, but unhurt. Then Jacob uncovered Eliza and put her limp body in my arms. For a terrible second I thought she was dead, and I thought, I will not be able to bear it. Then she opened her eyes and began screaming. We all laughed with relief.

It was November 1st, my 45th birthday, and I gave thanks that Eliza was unhurt, and I did not have to hold a dead baby in my arms a third time.

All my life I never had enough time, and now I have nothing but time. My senses have become very acute. Several times here late at night, it seems I can even recall the precise sound of the corn rustling.

November 1846

Nov 9th 1846, Sierra Nevada Mtns, still snowing

There are twenty one of us here at Alder Creek in three shelters.

IN OUR SHELTER.: George Donner, 60 Tamsen Donner, 45 Elitha Blue Donner, 13 Leanna Blue Donner, 11 Frances Donner, 6 Georgia Donner, 4 Eliza Donner, 3 Doris Wolfinger, 19, from Germany (Her husband disappeared in the second desert-Oct 11-12?, 1846) Uno, the children's dog

IN JACOB & ELIZABETH'S SHELTER: Jacob Donner, 58, George's brother Elizabeth Donner, 38 Solomon Hook, 14 William Hook, 12 George Donner, 9 Mary Donner, 7 Isaac: Donner, Samuel Donner, 4 Lewis Donner, 3

IN THE TEAMSTERS' SHELTER: Samuel Shoemaker, 25, our teamster from Springfield, Illinois James Smith, 25, the Reeds' teamster from Springfield, Illinois. Joseph Reinhardt, 30?, from Germany (Augustus Spitzer's partner?) Jean Baptiste Trudeau, 16, joined us at Fort Bridger-we say he's our factotum, because he can do anything

The second time I saw George Donner, he walked into my classroom with two other gentlemen. My thirty students, ranging in age from 6 to 12 years old, were reciting their times tables or working industriously on various projects. I was at my desk knitting. Mr. Donner, a step behind, looked reluctant, a little embarrassed; the other two men bustled with self-importance. The School Board Members. I had been waiting for them ever since my landlady told me that slanderous gossip about me was going around town.

"Children, we have visitors."

My students stood up. "Good morning, sirs." They sat down, folded their hands, and waited expectantly. I continued knitting.

The two officious school board members looked at each other with smug satisfaction. A smile played on George Donner's face.

"Is there anything you'd particularly like to see, gentlemen?"

Mr. Greene, a gentleman originally from the East who puts on airs and generally makes himself ridiculous, stepped forward and said, "We have heard that you knit during school hours, Mrs. Dozier."

"Well, now you can trust your eyes as well as your ears," I said pleasantly. "Please ask the children anything you wish. 13 times 7. The capital of Delaware. The inventor of the cotton gin. The main export of Brazil, the author of The Last of the Mohicans, the process of photosynthesis-"

Mr. Donner put on his hat and tipped it to me. "Thank you, Mrs. Dozier. Sorry to have taken up your time. Good day, children." He steered the flummoxed board members out. Later, he told me that he said to them, "I told you hounds you were howling up the wrong tree. I think she deserves an increase in salary, and I'm going to propose it next board meeting."

And he did. The first of many promises he has kept. George Donner is a man of his word, I was told by more than one person in Springfield before I even met him.

Nov 15th 1846

Jean Baptiste came back from the lake camp last night. He had been gone so long we thought he might have been lost. He said that when he arrived, a group of fourteen were just starting out to cross the pass and he joined them. They had to turn back at the end of the second day. He was very disappointed that they didn't even reach the end of the lake. He said it's much more difficult to walk in deep snow than he imagined.

They had more time to build their shelters so they're better housed than we, but other than that, Jean Baptiste says their situation is pretty much the same as ours. He says that everyone is confident that James Reed and "Big Bill" McCutchen will lead rescue to us soon. Their wives and children wait anxiously for them.

At the lake camp, there are sixty in three shelters.

The Breens moved into an existing cabin where an emigrant from the Stevens Party of '44 spent the winter. Jean Baptiste said that Mr. Breen calls it their "shanty."

IN THE "SHANTY": Patrick Breen, 51, from Ireland via Iowa Margaret Breen, 40 John Breen, 14 Edward Breen, 13 Patrick Breen, Jr., 9 Simon Breen, 8 James Breen, 5 Peter Breen, 3 Isabella Breen, 1

IN A LEAN-TO BUILT AGAINST THE "SHANTY" Lewis Keseberg, 32, orig. from Germany, most educated man in our company Philippine Keseberg, 23 Ada Keseberg, 3 Lewis Kescberg, Jr., born on the trail

ALSO: Charles Burger, "Dutch Charley," 30, from Germany, our teamster Augustus Spitzer, 30, from Germany (Joseph Reinhardt's partner?)

About 150 yards away, Jean Baptiste said the Murphys and Eddys built a cabin against a large rock. In this cabin

THE MHRPHYS: Levinah Murphy, 36, a widow from Tennessee, Mormon? John Landrum Murphy, 16 Mary Murphy, 14 Lemuel Murphy, 12 William Murphy, 10 Simon Murphy, 8

MRS. MURPHY'S MARRIED DAUGHTERS & THEIR FAMILIES Sarah Murphy Foster, 19 William Foster, 30 George Foster, 4 Harriet Murphy Pike, 18 (her husband, William, 32, accidentally killed, Oct, 1846, along the Truckee River) Naomi Pike, 2 Catherine Pike,

THE EDDYS FROM BELLEVUE, ILLINOIS: William Eddy, 28 Eleanor Eddy, 25 James Eddy, 3 Margaret Eddy, 1

A third cabin was built a half mile away, a double cabin for

THE GRAVESES: Franklin Graves, 57, from Vermont Elizabeth Graves, 45 Mary Ann Graves, 19 William Graves, 17 Eleanor Graves, 14 Lovina Graves, 12 Nancy Graves, 9 Jonathan Graves, 7 Franklin W. Graves, Jr., 5 Elizabeth Graves, Jr.,

ALSO, A DAHGHTER AND SON-IN-LAW: Sarah Graves Fosdick, 21 Jay Fosdick, 23

THE REEDS: Margret Reed, 32 Virginia Reed, 13 Martha "Patty" Reed, 9 James Reed, Jr., 6 Thomas Reed, 4 Milt Elliott, 28, from Springfield, the Reeds' teamster Eliza "Lizzie" Williams, 31, the Reeds' cook Baylis Williams, 25, Lizzie's brother, the Reeds' handyman

THE MCCHTCHENS: Amanda McCutchen, 25, joined us at Fort Bridger (Her husband, "Big Bill," went ahead with Charles Stanton in September i846 to Sutter's Fort for help) Harriet "Punkin" McCutchen, 1

ALSO: Charles Stanton, 35, from Chicago, traveling with us Luis and Salvador, Indians, "vaqueros," who came back with Mr. Stanton in October I846 from Sutter's Fort with mules and food

We're not sure yet which of the three shelters the others are in:

John Denton, 28, from England, traveling with us, carved Sarah Keyes's gravestone in Kansas Noah James, 16, from Springfield, our teamster Pat Dolan, 35?, originally from Ireland, friend of the Breens, most likely in their "shanty" Antonio (?), 23?, our herder, joined us at Fort Laramie

* * *

Altogether, eighty-one of us are trapped in the mountains. Here at Alder Creek, we are six men, three women, and twelve children. At the lake camp shelters, there are seventeen men, twelve women, and thirty-one children.

George and I have often talked about how the explorers went westward for knowledge or glory, the missionaries for converts, and the mountain men for adventure and fortune, but we of '46 have thought of ourselves from the beginning as bringing a civilization. We are the first year of the families on the Trail: a responsibility and a privilege that we have borne eagerly, indeed with pride.

When we were trying to hack our way through the Wasatch Mountains, we became aware of the liabilities of so many children, but that fact remained unspoken. Here in our grim shelter, the numbers laid out starkly on the page, there is no denying or ignoring their heart-sinking reality. As George and I worked out the ages of each for this list, we exchanged more than one look of dismay.

Sister,

Let me describe our shelter as for years I always described my current surroundings to you, Betsey, faithful to your instructions to "be particular with detail." We are in a clearing, three shelters in all, each at roughly the point of a triangle. When the storm forced us to seek cover, we put our largest tent against a great lodgepole pine to form the west side of our shelter. Then we drove posts into the ground and covered them with oxen hides. Erected in haste, it has served us remarkably well.

Inside at one end, we scooped a hollow in the ground, which serves as our fireplace. An opening at the top vents the smoke, but never all of it. There's always a smoky haze, and we're growing accustomed to our chronic throat clearings and coughs. It's night now, but night or day, along with the smoky haze, there are shadows, silhouettes, dark corners. When we go outside, the light hurts our eyes at first; then when we come back, we squint for a few moments until things become clear again.

At the other end of our shelter, posts and poles hold up crude wooden platforms we built out of weathered wagon boards. These platforms lift us off the wet earth, and we covered them with pine branches and blankets.

We divided one platform into two by hanging a blanket in the middle to give Mrs. Wolfinger privacy. Doris Wolfinger is a young German widow we took into our wagon after her husband disappeared in the second desert. She may as well be a hermit in a remote cave for all she is with us.

We made a rough table and two benches from wagon boards and put them close to the fire. We eat there, I lave and dress George's wound there, Elitha sometimes reads her Dickens there. I sit there now, and most nights, writing. A giant pinecone, lit, is my "lamp."

Around the edges of the shelter we have several bowls filled with melting snow for our water. Close to the door, we have our slops and empty it outside daily' except in the worst weather.

We almost always wear our coats inside over many layers of clothes, which I'm sorry to say, have not been washed for some time, a state I fear will continue. I suppose we are fortunate that it is too cold to sustain vermin.

Jacob and Elizabeth's shelter across the clearing is pretty much the same as ours except smokier and more pungent, although Jean Baptiste and I do our best to keep the vent open and empty the slops.

"The Indians do it this way," Jean Baptiste told George, and he instructed the men in making the teamsters' shelter, a kind of tepee, by covering triangulated poles with hides. Jean Baptiste is a godsend, and as good to the girls as if he were their brother. When the weather permits, he takes Georgia and Eliza outside and spreads out "Old Navajo," his colorful Indian blanket, on the ground. Eliza plops down and grabs one side, Georgia the other, and they begin rolling inward until they meet in the middle like two sausages. Jean Baptiste picks them up and props them against a log, where they watch him probe the snow looking for cattle or climb a tree looking to the west for the rescuers to come or simply talk to themselves in a private language they have made up. I could not manage without him. He finds firewood for all three shelters. He's of short stature, only five inches taller than I, but very strong. Jean Baptiste Trudeau is his full name. He is not sure where he was born. His father was French Canadian, a trapper, who was killed by Indians. His mother was Mexican and apparently, died when he was very young. He says he doesn't remember her. I feel very tender toward him. He is a good boy, and his eagerness makes him seem younger than his 21 years-"almost 22," he said at Fort Bridger, where he begged George to hire him. "A dollar a day," George said, "and all the food you can eat."

Your sister

(Continues...)



Excerpted from Impatient With Desire by Gabrielle Burton Copyright © 2010 by Gabrielle Burton. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 9 of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted January 20, 2011

    Great Book!

    This is a well-written book and a very enjoyable read. It is nice to still be able to find a book that is well-crafted. I wish I had bought a copy of the actual book so that I could have more easily viewed and reviewed the maps, but otherwise I am very happy to have this on my Nook. It was my first!

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  • Posted December 3, 2010

    Great Account of a Tragic Story

    In preparing to write Trapped! The True Story of a Pioneer Girl, my middle grade children's novel about Virginia Reed, a girl with the Donner Party, I read everything I could find about those ill-fated pioneers. I also traveled their route from Springfield, Illinois, where they left established homes to the high Sierras where deep snow forced them to live out that winter of 1846-47 in crude shelters. In my research Tamsen Donner always stood out as a unique individual and for me Gabrielle Burton has captured the very essence of her. I always knew I'd love and admire her and in this story I got the chance to do so. Educated, resilient, strong, adventurous, loving, brave, faithful, if there was a flaw in her, it was minor and hidden deep. Although I know it was a fictional account (of a true happening) the story, told in a journal and in letters that no longer exist, was totally believable to me. The Donners, George and Tamsen, their five daughters, the youngest only three, and Jacob and Elizabeth Donner and their children, one also only three, the hired men and one widowed woman were forced by wagon problems to set up their crude camps about eight miles from the rest of the party. The Donner Party gained infamy when it was learned that some had resorted to cannibalism. This story touches on the subject, but with dignity and grace which was, I thought, in keeping with Tamsen's character. The story ends with George's death, the children gone with one of the relief parties, and Tamsen, who stayed behind to help George through his last hours, striking out for the main camp by the lake. With the exception of Lewis Keseberg, they were all gone when Tamsen arrived, either dead or with the last relief party. One final relief party arrived in mid-April and found only Lewis Keseberg alive. He said Tamsen Donner had died in his cabin shortly after arriving. By all acounts, Keseberg was an odd individual and not well liked. Many believed he killed Tamsen for her flesh, but he always maintained his innocence. Eunice Boeve, author of Trapped!

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  • Posted April 16, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Moving Story of Tamsen Donner

    The story of the Donner Party is well known - a group of 87 pioneers set out for California by wagon train in 1846, but became stranded in the Sierra Nevada, high in the mountains near Truckee, California. Their decision to take a new cut-off (called the Hastings cutoff) delayed their passage west and an early snowfall trapped them in the desolate wilderness just shy of their goal. Forced to spend more than four months in the wilderness, all but 48 perished from starvation and illness. Several survivors resorted to cannibalism after they ran out of oxen and buffalo hides to eat.

    Although many have written of the Donner Party and created websites specifically about the ill-fated journey, few have attempted to create an historical novel focused on any of the individuals. Gabrielle Burton has imagined letters and journal entries written by Tamsen Donner and written Impatient With Desire - a novel focused on the Donner family themselves (including their five children) and narrated by Tamsen.

    Burton's novel is nonlinear in nature - first placing the reader with the stranded and desperate party, and then moving back and forth in time to give information about not only the journey itself, but the history of the characters prior to their decision to move west. Tamsen's voice is clear and compelling - heard through her letters to her sister Betsy as well as through the imagined journal entries. Burton brings to life a woman who yearned to see what had not yet been seen, an explorer who could not silence the wanderlust within herself. The risks of moving across a country which had been mostly uncharted were great - Indian attacks, accidents, illness.and for the Donner Party, the unpredictable weather and a new trail which took them through the rugged and nearly impassable Wasatch Mountain range.

    This novel is less about the facts of the Donner Party journey (although those are there), but more about the people who experienced it - specifically, the women who made the journey. By focusing on letters and journal entries, Burton has provided the opportunity for readers to understand the possible thoughts and emotions of the pioneers who headed west in search of adventure and land. The novel gives insight into the dreams of those who paved the way for future generations.

    Impatient with Desire does not spare its readers the desperation of its characters. At times it is hard to read as Tamsen records the deaths of each person in her Bible. Those who know the history behind the novel cannot help but dread the death of George, Tamsen's husband who shared her dreams. But despite the sadness behind the novel, it was also an exhilarating read. I was left feeling tremendous respect and awe for those individuals who had the courage and fortitude to strike out into the wilderness, knowing the risks, but believing in a better life for themselves and their families.

    Readers who love historical fiction and who are interested especially in the women of history, will enjoy Impatient with Desire. Richly imagined and heartbreaking, this is a novel I can recommend.

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  • Posted March 1, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    Touching in it's depth

    Crafted from research including 17 letters written by Tamsen Donner herself, Burton has created a fictional journal of Tamsen Donner and the Donner Party that is insightful and heart wrenching. It is as if she has given the Donner Party a voice over 150 years later and that voice was one of hopes, dreams, fear, isolation, strength and ultimately courage.

    How the party came to end up, trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for the winter of 1846/1847 was really a complex mix of mistakes, mishaps, and foolhardiness, but many of the group made it through. Burton paints Tamsen Donner as a woman ahead of her time, educated, ambitious, strong, & ultimately a woman that you would like to have known.

    The struggles that they went through are seemingly unimaginable, but Impatient with Desire makes them all real and tangible. What parent wouldn't die just a little inside, knowing that their child is starving and they can't do a thing about it? What role do the rules of society play when you and your family are freezing, starving, and trapped? Powerful questions and just as powerfully written, this novel kept me entranced.

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  • Posted March 1, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    Burton's rendition of this tale is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

    Impatient with Desire was an interesting read. Burton's tale is based on historic fact, but she had fun with some of the details and switched them around a bit to suit her. I'm glad that she approached the novel in this manner because we all know how the Donner party turned out. There is so little to go on as far as what actually happened but she used what she could find and built a story around it.

    The story is told through Tamsen Donner and her journal entries. The format worked for me and it gave me a clear picture of the timeframe involved, how many days had passed, etc. Burton's use of flashbacks was very effective. A certain phrase or image often sends Tamsen back to a happier time. As she struggles to feed her children and care for her wounded husband, we are given the story in bits and pieces. How they came to the decision to head to California, the folks they lost along the way, etc.

    The conditions were horrid. Scores of people died. Much of the book is spent recording these deaths. This part was a tad tedious as there were just so many deaths. However, I imagine that this is how it was for those families. Trying to give the dead the respect that they deserve, knowing full well that there would be some tough decisions to make later.

    As you know from history, the Donner party resorted to cannibalism. Burton handles this part of the story quite well. The level of desperation is great at this point, and there seems to be no other option. So for those that are a bit squeamish about the subject, don't let that deter you from picking up this book. As dire as their situation is, the story is hopeful. The passages where Tamsen cares for her husband and children are very touching. The love of a mother runs deep. That's all I can say.

    This booked has piqued my interest in the Donner party and what happened during that fateful trip. If you like historical fiction, you will enjoy this one but it is very brief and you will probably want to read more about their experiences afterward, as this book just touches the surface. Of course, it's fictionalized to a degree so although some of the characters actually did exist, the story that surrounds them is the creation of the author.

    Source: This review copy was sent to me in conjunction with Library Thing's Early Reviewer program.

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  • Posted February 3, 2010

    I Also Recommend:

    historically solid, beautifully crafted, entertaining -- excellent for book clubs

    This book is haunting and will stay with you. It pulls you in and doesn't let you go, even after you close the back cover. As a language lover, the words were like honey -- so beautifully crafted and elegant. You had an immediate sense of character of Tamsen Donner, as well as others she discusses. For history buffs, novel lovers, and lovestory-readers, this is a book for you. An excellent, excellent read. I feel it's a little like "Memoirs of a Geisha" or similar novels that knock you over with a feather quill -- "Impatient" will leave you impatient until you can get back to reading it, and then also not wanting it to end! The tragic history of the Donner Party is so well woven into the story, I felt like I learned without even thinking about it. I was also impelled to do some internet research about women of the period and really surprised to learn how strong and "ahead of their time" a lot of women were in the 1850s. Some of the ideas of the protagonist in "Impatient" surprised me as seeming modern -- and I was surprised to learn how unradical Tamsen Donner really was for the period. So, it seems also reflective of this novel that it made me want to learn more, and taught me something that enriches my life now. Also, as a working mom, I really don't have a lot of time to read, so I'm pretty darn choosy, and this was totally worth it. I'll be surprised if it isn't a bestseller and a movie in a year.

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  • Posted January 27, 2010

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Impatient With Desire Will Transport You Back In Time

    I had never heard of the Donner Party nor knew anything about another way to travel west besides the Oregon Trail. So, when I sat down with this book, I had no expectations besides being entertained. I didn't expect Tamsen Donner to catch my heart and hold it through her journal entries and letters to her sister. My heart went out to the families and men that traveled in the party, and every time one died, I could feel the heartbreak and mounting concern that each one brought, as if I, too, was traveling with them. Tamsen was a strong and courageous voice that had such spirit and dignity, even in times when she felt her hope dwindling.

    Gabrielle Burton gave Tamsen such a powerful voice. One, that I'm sure, captured the essence of who Tamsen was. I was impressed by how much research went into this novel, and how Gabrielle spent time on the same trail to get the feel of what it must have been like for the Donners. This was an amazing book and a fantastic piece of historical fiction that should be read by everyone. <span style="font-style:italic;">Impatient with Desire</span> is a masterful piece of work that captures the pioneer spirit and brings to light the sacrifice, commitment and disappointments each adventurer had to endure. I look forward to reading more by this author!

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    Posted July 5, 2010

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    Posted August 19, 2010

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