The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride

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by Daniel James Brown
     
 

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From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat

In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of emigrants led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as

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Overview

From the #1 New York Times bestselling author of The Boys in the Boat

In April of 1846, twenty-one-year-old Sarah Graves, intent on a better future, set out west from Illinois with her new husband, her parents, and eight siblings. Seven months later, after joining a party of emigrants led by George Donner, they reached the Sierra Nevada Mountains as the first heavy snows of the season closed the pass ahead of them. In early December, starving and desperate, Sarah and fourteen others set out for California on snowshoes and, over the next thirty-two days, endured almost unfathomable hardships and horrors.

In this gripping narrative, Daniel James Brown sheds new light on one of the most infamous events in American history. Following every painful footstep of Sarah's journey with the Donner Party, Brown produces a tale both spellbinding and richly informative.

Editorial Reviews

Irvin Molotsky
“A compelling retelling of the ghastly events surrounding the Donner party. Daniel James Brown, using one survivor’s experience as his focus, moves beyond the cardboard figures depicted in previous accounts and shows how the lucky few endured and survived.”
Nina Burleigh
“In this gripping narrative, Brown reveals the extremes of endurance that underlie the history of this nation, and more than that, of humanity in any part of the world, even today, surviving great peril in search of a better life.”
BookPage
“Daniel James Brown brings the myth to life, transforming faint history class memories into gripping reality.”
Boston Globe
“Brown draws from the many previously published accounts of the tragedy, letters from the party and those who knew them, accounts of life on the Oregon and California trails, genealogical databases, and his own travel along the trail…but he tells the tale with a novelist’s touch.”
Mary Roach
The Indifferent Stars Above is an ideal pairing of talent and material. In Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894, Brown showed himself to be a deft and ambitious storyteller, sifting through the copious and often conflicting details of dozens of survivor and eyewitness accounts to forge a trim, surging minute-by-minute narrative. He takes more side trips here with snow than he did with fire. In almost every chapter, he steps away from the events at hand to provide historical or medical context. With a few exceptions, it's engrossing stuff…Brown isn't a showy writer, and that's probably for the best. With tragedy of this scale, an unadorned telling of the events speaks loudest.
—The New York Times
Library Journal

In April 1846, as young newlywed Sarah Graves departed her Illinois home on a journey to California, she could not foresee the misery and horror that awaited her. After numerous delays on their difficult westward path, she and her family found themselves dangerously behind schedule as winter loomed, and they decided to join an ill-fated wagon train under the leadership of George Donner. Ending up snowbound and starving in the Sierra Nevada range, the Donner party descended into cannibalism, a well-known and grisly episode of pioneer history. Given a fresh and intriguing telling here thanks to the supple, readable, and well-researched narrative by Brown (former managing editor, Microsoft Corp.; Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894), Graves's dark tale is engrossing and appalling in equal measure. Never melodramatic or maudlin, 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. Likely to appeal to true adventure and history fans, who may also like Frank Mullen's The Donner Party Chronicles, this work is strongly recommended for larger public libraries.
—Ingrid Levin

Kirkus Reviews
Brown (Under a Flaming Sky: The Great Hinckley Firestorm of 1894, 2006) delivers a skillful, suspenseful study of the Donner Party, narrated from the point of view of a newly married woman. In April 1846, 21-year-old Sarah Graves embarked with her family and new husband, 23-year-old Jay Fosdick, on a wagon-train migration to California from Steuben Township, Ill. Armed with Lansford Warren Hastings's newly published The Emigrants' Guide to Oregon and California, they set out with other families, unaware of how disastrously perilous Hastings's "shortcut" to California-via Wyoming to the south end of the Great Salt Lake and then through the impassable Wasatch Mountains-would prove. Burdened by their heavy loads, the parties moved slowly and faced increasingly dire conditions such as parched land, limited water, deteriorating sanitary conditions, Indian raids on their cattle and indecision regarding which way to go. Snow began falling in late October when they reached the cliffs of the Sierra Nevada. Halted at Truckee Lake, those able to walk-including Graves-were determined to make a pass over the mountains and find help, while the mothers and small children stayed at the lake camp. Starvation, hypothermia and dementia plagued both groups, and at some point the wanderers decided to eat the bodies of the dead, including Graves's father and husband. Some even conspired to kill those still alive, such as the two native Miwok boys who accompanied them. Of the 87 "official members of George Donner's company," 47 died, mostly men. Wading through the many previous accounts of the ill-fated journey, Brown creates a thorough and unique narrative. A moving man-against-nature tragedy that stillresonates today.
From the Publisher
"Brown draws from the many previously published accounts of the tragedy. . . . But he tells the tale with a novelist's touch." —Boston Globe

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061348112
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
06/01/2010
Series:
P.S. Series
Pages:
337
Sales rank:
87,653
Product dimensions:
5.30(w) x 7.90(h) x 1.00(d)

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