Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner

Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner

by Gabrielle Burton


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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 on the California-Oregon Trail 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--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 mountains 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 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.

Praise for Impatient with Desire

"Gabrielle Burton brings us a moving story of human courage and frailty. Tamsen Donner's tale will stay with you long after you've read the last page."
--Nancy Horan, author of Loving Frank

"Few figures in the westward movement of this country have the almost mythic presence of Tamsen Donner. With her strong creative gifts, an exceptional talent for clear and moving narrative, and careful research, Burton has most surely succeeded in her intention to capture Tamsen Donner's spirit and has given us a marvelous, moving story of a brave, loving--and real--woman."
--Isabel Zuber, author of Salt

"Told through fictional letters and diary entries written by Tamsen Donner, Impatient with Desire is a hauntingly lyrical story of the ill-fated Donner Party, one of the seminal events in America's westward movement. This bittersweet novel of love and sacrifice will tear at your heart."
--Sandra Dallas, author of Prayers for Sale

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781401341015
Publisher: Hachette Books
Publication date: 03/09/2010
Pages: 248
Product dimensions: 5.60(w) x 8.30(h) x 1.00(d)
Age Range: 18 Years

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.

Read an Excerpt

Impatient With Desire

By Gabrielle Burton


Copyright © 2010 Gabrielle Burton
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-4013-4101-5

Chapter One


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.


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


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.

What People are Saying About This

Sandra Dallas

Hauntingly lyrical . . . This bittersweet novel of love and sacrifice will tear at your heart. (Sandra Dallas, author of Prayers for Sale)

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Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 62 reviews.
kraaivrouw on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I would not normally have chosen Impatient with Desire as a read. The cover is a bit prairie romance novel and the subject, the imagined journal of the wife of the leader of the Donner party, doesn't sound all that appetizing. I was invited to review this book by Rare Bird Lit and I am so very glad, otherwise I would've missed a great book.Impatient with Desire is lots of things. It's epistolary. It's riveting. It's filled with dread and wonder and regret. It's a beautifully written impressionistic sort of novel that isn't really concerned about timelines or an A to Z path to telling its stories. Much like a real journal it is memories and thoughts and what if's.Ms. Burton manages to instill a vague sense of dread throughout the book. Part of this is that we all know the end, but part of it is the way Ms. Burton drops facts and skitters about the reality forcing the reader to fill in the blanks. This book truly grabbed me within the first few pages and the list of Donner Party members - the number of children ruffled the hairs on the back of my neck. An unforgettable moment in reading so simply presented - this is the essence of this book and I loved it.
dkgorski on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
It has been a long time since I have read a book in its entirety in one sitting. Easy and interesting read. I am very familiar with the story of the Donner Party and enjoyed this fictional rendition. Burton does a good job writing from the perspective of Tamsen Donner. This book exemplifies the adverturous spirit as well as the woes of survival of the American pioneers. This is my first review and thrilled that I received the book I really wanted to read.
ohdani on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book has been haunting me since I read it. I finished it within two nights- although it's hypnotic enough to finish in one. If you are at all interested in the Donner Party tale, this will give you a new perspective to take into consideration, and will leave you thinking about it for quite a while. Personally, I can't stop thinking about all those children that were trapped and dying that winter on the trail, and how the parents must have suffered watching them starve. This is a story that will stick with you.
DBake on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got this book as an early copy and felt so lucky to get it! I was particularly interested in the book, as I happened to read the author's "Searching For Tamsen Donner" this year based on a friend's recommendation and really enjoyed it, so I was wondering what the author would write from the fictional standpoint. And I was not disappointed! This book is, as someone else here said, "haunting." 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.
Kadi1120 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First off, don't be fooled by the title into thinking this is a romance novel. It is not. What it is is one of the best introductions to the Donner Party that I've read.The book it told from the point of view of Tamsen Donner, the wife of George Donner, leader of the Donner Party, during 1846-1847. The tragic events unfold as a series of journal entries addressed to her sister. As the circumstances grow worse, the entries become more and more haunting, reflecting the changes Mrs. Donner must be feeling as things grow worse. Gabrielle Burton has done a superb job of capturing Tamsen Donner's emotions as she witnesses the struggles of the party. The desperation of a mother who can't feed her young children is palpable, especially when she makes the terrible choice on how to keep them fed. The descriptions of the ordeal grab you, and both heartbreaking and horrifying. This book gripped me from the moment I started it. It will remain with me for a long time after.
gswallreader on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is a must read! I found I couldn't put it down. Though ittells a story many people think they know (the Donner Party), theperspective is so fresh and personal -- you can really feel what so muchof it must have been like. Each hurdle they overcome is brought tolife, the joys and sorrows are so tangible, and the ultimatedifficulties are heart breaking. I enjoyed reading a female voice fromthat time -- we so rarely get to hear about this time from a woman'sperspective, and of course women were there too! And the author, bystaying fully in that time period and with no comment, somehow allowedme to make parallels to the struggles we are still experiencing today --trying to balance adventure with family life. Even though the actualevents that happened in this book are so far from my personal life, Ifelt really connected to these characters and their human struggles.Even though you'd think it'd be depressing, it's really hopeful.
skf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The author says her goal was humanizing the story of the Donner Party who spent a winter stranded in the Sierra Nevadas instead of getting their wagon train all the way to California. Although she took literary license in this book, she achieved her goal, making the story of the Donner Party one of the people who struggled and died along the way instead of one of canabalizing those who died first. It was an easy read, and one that made you want to read it all quickly. Gabrielle Burton researched thoroughly. The only complaint I might have was how much it jumped around to memories and current events, sometimes making it difficult to follow. I'd recommend it to anyone who has an interest in American pioneers in general or the Donner party in particular. One note I found amusing was the addition to fact that Tamsen Donner told the minister to "leave 'obey' out of the vows" when she married George Donner. Guess it's hard for some to imagine other values than theirs in present day.
nancnn2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This review refers to an advance copy.Although I had heard of the Donner party, I had never read anything about them. This book was a gripping fictionalized account of their experiences. I found the journal style of narrative to be a particularly good vehicle for this heart-wrenching story. This book has made me want to learn more about the Donner party. Well done!
psujulie on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
When I saw IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE by Gabrielle Burton on the monthly Library Thing Early Reviewers list, I immediately requested it because I thought the book sounded very interesting. I'm completely fascinated by the idea of an entire family leaving behind the relative comfort of their home to head to the unknown West (I guess you could say that I'm not exactly adventurous.) But when I was notified that I would be receiving a copy of IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE, I admit I had to do a double-take. Based on the book's title, it didn't sound like one that I would have asked for -- I mean it does kind of sound like a romance book. It wasn't until I re-read the book's description and remembered that it was the story of the Donner Party that I realized I was very excited to actually be getting a copy of this historical novel.For those of you who don't know about the Donner Party (and that included me before reading this novel), they were a group of around 90 pioneers who wanted to head West via the California-Oregon Trail in 1846. Their trip didn't go exactly as according to plan, and they became trapped in the snow for over four months in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. Almost half of the group ended up dying and the rest had to do whatever they could to stay alive (and some of those things were pretty gruesome to say the least.)Needless to say, the story behind these families is an incredible one. I certainly think the Donner Party story proves that truth can be stranger than fiction. Having said that, IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE is a definitely a work of fiction -- but it is heavily based on the few known facts about the Donner Party. The rest of the story is made up by Ms. Burton, and I have to say that I think she did an excellent job. The story felt real to me, the characters seemed very believable, and overall I thoroughly appreciated this book.One very pleasant surprise for me was Ms. Burton's writing style. I don't know that I had a lot of expectations going into the book, but I was extremely impressed with how Ms. Burton told the story of the Donner Family. I thought this book was very well written, and the presentation was more literary than I was expecting. I appreciated how Ms. Burton went back and forth between the present (which was really 1846) and the times leading up to the decision for the Donners to head West. Her transitions were smooth, yet very interesting. I also liked how the back and forth nature of the story provided the necessary information for further character development.I am in total awe of Tamsen Donner as a woman. She gives a new name to strength and resilience. While I'm still not sure I totally understood her need to put her entire family (including her very young daughter) in danger to head out on the California-Oregon trail, there is no doubt that Tamsen was a very special woman. She did everything in her power for her husband and children even when it meant going without for herself. Parts of this book and Tamsen's story absolutely broke my heart, but I still think I was left with a message of hope when I finished it.I think the background to this novel is almost as interesting as the book itself. The author, Gabrielle Burton has had a long-time fascination with the Donner Party and especially Tamsen Donner. You could even call it her passion. She has researched the Donner Party for years and has even walked along the trails that the Tamsen Party did in 1946. I think her devout interest in Tamsen Donner is very evident throughout the book. Ms. Burton even says in the Author's Note section, "What I wanted to do was capture Tamsen Donner's spirit." After reading IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE, I can definitely attest that Ms. Burton did indeed capture Tamsen's spirit!
screamingbanshee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got just a bit of an eyeroll from the hubby when he saw the title of the book. I've sort of sworn off trashy romance novels - and this is what this book seemed to be about - an illicit romance with lots of steamy sex scenes! The cover design sends off mixed signals too - despite the cool mountain panorama, the flowered detail at the bottom again suggests romance. I had a little explaining to do, that it was historical fiction based on the tribulations of pioneering Americans migrating to California. I found the subject matter fascinating, provoking, if not a bit depressing, but highlighting the tenacity of the human spirit despite whatever life throws. The fact that it is a well-researched piece of fiction underscores that history can become alive, especially told from a first-person point of view; Tamsen Donner is a force to be reckoned with as she is the epitome of the stubborn lover, the ferocious mother, and the strong woman of the time. I had a bit of a problem with the chronology of this book as it got a little confusing, despite the highly detailed accounts and lists of people in the story. (I received this as an Early Bird Review Book!)
EnglishGeek13 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I finished this book a while back so this won't be the best review I could have written, but here goes. It recounts the story of the infamous Donner party, a group of pioneers who caught the excitement of the call westward with disastrous results, and is in the form of a diary kept by Tamsen Donner, one of the leaders of the group. Obviously, this is one downer of a book. I was really confused at the beginning and remained that way throughout because there are so many characters and I simply couldn't keep up with them all. Thus when we start out, references are made that become clearer, but initially I was completely lost. Overall the book is well written, but unless you are interested in the subject matter, I'd stay away.
mattshark on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I really wanted to like Impatient With Desire. My interest in this period of history was piqued by the book description, and I was prepared to read about an important chapter in the birth of the country from a historical novelist¿s perspective. In the end, I found myself having to force myself to keep reading and finish the book. My main problem was with the way the Burton used the first person journal narrative style. In her telling of the story Burton¿s structure of the novel interferes with the story itself. The book jumps around too much and doesn¿t allow itself to fully explore an issue to the reader¿s satisfaction. For example, the issue of how the party had to cannibalize their dead was touched on lightly, but there wasn¿t much in terms of insight or inner conflict (other than Tamsen Donner cooked but didn¿t eat the meat). The author pushes a feminist line, as the women of the party did exist as adventurers and integral parts of the journey, but this issue is not explored in any depth either. This isn¿t a book I can recommend.
ParadigmTree on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Don¿t let the romantic sounding title and flowers on the cover fool you, ¿Impatient with Desire¿ is a grim and chilling story of survival. The story is a fictionalized retelling of the infamous Donner Party expedition from the perspective of Tamsen Donner. Tamson is the wife of George Donner, the expedition captain, and mother/stepmother to 5 children, most of whom are very young. The title refers the settlers being ¿impatient with desire¿ to go west to California, despite the dangers and extreme conditions.Reading this book, I was already aware of the outcome (as I¿m sure many potential readers are) but that did not lessen the impact. Ms. Burton has crafted a beautifully written story, detailing the experience at the camp where they are stranded in the mountains, as well as the lead up to that point. This includes both the expedition across the west and the Donners¿ lives before. The author provides many details about what life was like in that era, and also succeeds in showing the mindset of Donners and other settlers in their party, as to why they would undertake this dangerous journey.Tamsen is a strong character, who is ahead of her time in terms of education and views. The author has done extensive research on Tamsen Donner and it is likely that this fictionalization is mostly accurate. However, as the story is told from Tamsen¿s point of view, I think that the author uses the ¿unreliable narrator¿ device in several places. It is apparent that Tamsen is struggling with keeping her family together and sane. Is she really writing the whole story down? It is left up to the reader to interpret those hints.¿Impatient with Desire¿ is a heartbreaking story that puts a very human face on the events from the Donner Party expedition. Highly recommended for those who enjoy historical fiction.
jtena on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Very engaging read. Sure, most people are (or should be) aware of the ill-fated Donner party, but after reading this book one feels a closer connection and understanding to the actual people involved. No longer merely names and dates learned by rote in school, a number of the main characters are fleshed out into living, breathing, and, most importantly, feeling individuals.
spartacula2 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This story is written in the form of letters to home which read like memoirs from a personal journal, so the story jumps around a bit in fond remembrances. Tamsen Donner's character provides insight to the horrible situations the Donner Party encountered, but I just never felt an attachment to her. In all fairness, I'm a fan of non-fiction and I was left feeling Impatient with Desire to figure just what was true and what wasn't. I'm interested in the pioneers that ventured west, and Burton has provided an imaginative glimpse into the era, but it lacks the depth behind their decision making and gave me a feeling of scratching the surface.
MissMermaid118 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Last year I read THE INDIFFERENT STARS ABOVE by Daniel James Brown, an nonfiction account of the Donner Party. It was one of the best books I read last year. If I hadn't read that book previously, I don't know how well I would have been able to follow and "enjoy" IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE, a fictional telling of the experience. Of course, I don't like to use the word "enjoy" in connection with a story of the Donner Party, but I did find it to be a very rewarding reading experience. If the reader is already familiar with the details of the entire Donner Party passage (and not just the horrifying lengths they were forced to go through to survive), then I would recommend IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE. I liked that this novel focused attention on the women and children involved in tragedy. I don't think that people generally have the realization that most of the travelers were women and children. In Tamsen Donner "diary entries" the increasing stress of their situation is evident. I did have the sense that she was finding it increasingly difficult to maintain her own sanity. I came away from the novel with a better sense of the day-to-day life of the trapped group - they were not just deperately hungry and cold, they were bored, dirty, and pretty much living in the dark. I'd recommend this novel to readers who are already familiar with some detailed facts of this ordeal, but I don't know that it could be fully appreciated by someone who has not already read about this American tragedy.
Sunflower6_Cris on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I received "Impatient with Desire" by Gabrielle Burton as an Early Reviewers Book. Although the title may fool you, it is not a romance novel. This is the story of the Donner Party traveling the California-Oregon Trail in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, but told from Tamsen Donner¿s perspective. Tamsen Donner was the wife of George Donner, the leader of the infamous Donner Party.The story is told in diary format through the mind and heart of Tamsen, as she traveled with her family and party. How she managed to endure, to survive and to resort to unimaginable means for over four months in early snow will make you not want to put this book down.The one down side is that this book was not told in chronological order, which at times was hard to follow. However, I did enjoy it and I would still recommend it to others if they have an interest in this part of American History (although this has a fictional twist). You may find yourself wondering what you would do if you were put into the same situation, Burton has made this a thought-provoking book. Thank you Library Thing and Early Reviewers!
missmasse on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
First let me get out of the way that I loved the title of this book (and the cover art). On to the more important part, I really enjoyed the book as well. Other reviewers have mentioned that they read the whole novel in one sitting; I found it similarly compelling, I couldn't put it down until I was done (nor could I quite shake the emotions that I was left with after I finished for a day or two). The strength of Impatient with Desire for me was the clarity of the main character Tamsen Donner's voice. She's very real (despite actually having been fictionalized to a degree by the author). Gabrielle Burton most definitely succeeded in bringing a real sense of humanity to an event that I think is often viewed/depicted in more of a horror/freakshow cannibalism kind of way than as a human tragedy. I felt a little mixed about the lack of resolution at the end of the novel, but ultimately it just made me want to do my own research into the Donner party to see what happened to the person on whom Tamsen was based. One complaint, which has more to do with the historical facts than Burton's writing: There were so many people in the party with similar or the same names (Mary, and Elizabeth come to mind), so many people in the party in general, that at times I had a hard time keeping characters straight.
DelilahDenton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Gabrielle Burton weaves a tale of quiet desperation from the life of Tamsen Donner, mixing fact and legend to imagine the human courage and heartbreak of a story that is so often reduced to a cautionary tale. It is a hauntingly beautiful and intimate portrait of the Oregon Trail¿s most infamous party.
tibobi on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Short of It: Burton¿s rendition of this tale is both heartbreaking and hopeful. The Rest of It: 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.
ChewDigest on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
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.
dpelaez on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Loved the book, It gave an insight into what how the Donner party survived and it was a quick but yet interesting read. Thank you again LibraryThing!
DrSmeeton on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Actualizing the pervasive sense of "manifest destiny," many wagon trains went west during the middle of the nineteenth century. For the most part their stories of suffering and pain, deserts and mountains, deaths and births, violence from without and conflict from within were never recorded. One band, however, became of legend, a watchword and a warning: the Donner Party. Delayed by many unfortunate decisions, the wagons led by George Donner were caught without sufficient provisions by unforgiving blizzards that stalled their progress toward California--the promised land. After the food was exhausted, the oxen boiled, the strips of hide consumed, the dwindling band of survivors finally turned to the bodies of their former companions. The story of the Donner Party was probably not unique but it captured the imaginations of civilization at the time and continues to haunt the legends of the west.Garbielle Burton uses diaries, letters and her imagination to weave a novel one cannot easily abandon. By creating the voice of Tamsen Donner, Burton recreates a believable sennerio of a strong woman holding the band together. We read her dariy pages, her unsent letters and even her mind as she recalls her childhood in New England, her first husband in North Carolina, the days "impatient with desire" in Illinois and, of course, various incidents on the westward journey. It is a story not easily forgotten, written with unforgettable skill.
ladytaluka on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Although the title of this book sounds scandalous, it is not. This is the story of Tamsen Donner, wife of George Donner - the leader of the Donner party that traveled from Illinois to California in 1846/1847 and got stuck in the mountains during the winter.For some reason I thought the Donner party were Mormons, so I kept expecting to hear about religion, but they weren't.This book was not told chronologically, which I don't usually mind, but I found it hard to follow sometimes. I did enjoy it though. The author did a good job making you empathize and understand Tamsen's feelings. I found myself crying throughout different parts of the books and wondering what I would have done in the same situation. A thought-provoking book. Wish it would have been a little better organized though.
meaganrmyers on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I couldn't put this one down and finished it in a day. Ms. Burton's focus on Tamsen and her family shows the love and the bitter struggle for survival that the Donner party had to go through during their time in the Sierra Nevadas. It is a great story and I can't wait to recommend it to my friends.