: Impatient with desire (9781401341015) : Gabrielle Burton : Books
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Impatient With Desire

by Gabrielle Burton
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Product Details

  • Publisher: Voice
  • Publishing date: 09/03/2010
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-13: 9781401341015
  • ISBN: 1401341012


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

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  • Impatient with Desire
    From Amazon

    ***Originally posted at [...] **** Impatient with Desire is the story of Tamsen Donner, now-legendary westward pioneer. Tamsen was forty-five when she set out on the California-Oregon Trail with her husband and five children in the spring of 1846. Stranded by early snows, Tamsen and the other Donner Party pioneers spent a harrowing four months in the Sierra Nevadas without supplies. Tamsen sent her daughters out with relief parties and stayed behind with her wounded husband; she died sometime in April 1847, leaving only her letters and a journal that was never recovered. Impatient with Desire is a recreation of that lost journal. Burton's meticulously researched account mingles her own prose with phrases from Tamsen's extant letters, with engaging results. From her shelter in the Sierra Nevadas, Tamsen remembers her girlhood in Newburyport, her courtship and marriage with her second husband, the bustle of their preparations to move west, and the hardships of trail life. Burton captures the voice of this remarkable woman, a schoolteacher and botanist who traveled alone from Massachusetts to Illinois and left behind a spirited collection of letters to her sister Betsey. "In my lifetime people have sometimes wondered at my conduct, but they have never despised me," Tamsen writes, thinking back over her travels. "And I shall never be despised." Tamsen's independence does not go too far, however, in securing her voice on the trail. One of the most harrowing moments in Impatient with Desire is a campfire scene where the party's men debate over whether or not to take the Hastings Cutoff, the ill-advised shortcut that ultimately left them stranded. Sitting beyond the circle of men with her journal on her lap, Tamsen records the fateful vote, convinced that no woman in the party would have agreed to the decision. Months later, searching for empty spaces in her filled journal, Tamsen muses, "You can write a whole book in the margins." Tamsen's marginalized pages remind us of marginalized voices: a "schoolteacher doing life and death sums," Tamsen is at once a mother, wife, traveler, scribe, voteless companion. Despite her exclusion from trail politics, Tamsen still maintains an equal companionship with her second husband George. The story of their marriage blends the objects and scenes of memory with the bleak mountain campsite. These vivid recollections--holidays and children's birthdays, the decision to move West, the frenzy of preparations, and the excitement as the party sets out from Independence--bring Tamsen alive as a historical figure. Reminiscence finally yields to grim inventory as, in spare, elegant language, Tamsen records taking apart her family's shelter, her botany collection, even her journal cover, for sustenance. Burton's Impatient with Desire is more evenly composed than her memoir about her cross-country journey in Tamsen's tracks, Searching for Tamsen Donner. I began the book a bit skeptical about its valorization of the American frontier, and I kept reading because I wanted more Tamsen. Donner Party lore has often focused on the cannibalism of the pioneers (confirmed facts about the Donner Party's struggles are notoriously scanty). Burton deftly negotiates this tale of outward struggle to bring us a story of inner survival as well. I read Impatient with Desire with a kind of grim fascination; Tamsen's endurance and the powerful elegance of her narration stayed with me long after I finished the book. Finely crafted and spellbinding in the calm pain of its heroine, Impatient with Desire is historical fiction at its best. Readers interested in women's history, westward expansion, wilderness tales, and historical fiction will find much to ponder. Review by Barbara Barrow

  • Work of art -- excellent for book clubs
    From Amazon

    This is a masterful novel in the lines of Memoirs of A Geisha and other historically-based gorgeous fiction. Written as letters to her sister within a journal, IMPATIENT WITH DESIRE details the story of Tamsen Donner of the Donner Party (the pioneers who got stuck in the mountains and, as we all recall from history class, turned to cannibalism). Rather than play on the sordid nature of the ultimate event of cannibalism, Burton instead weaves a heart-wrenching tale of adventure, pioneer spirit, faithfulness, love, and parenting. The personality of Donner is brought alive by her remarkable voice -- an inspiration, and I was surprised to hear how "ahead" of her time many of the notions seemed (learned that was not unusual then, actually!). While the choices of turning to cannibalism and also her sending her children ahead with rescue have been unanswered questions, Burton's book humanizes them, gives reason and empathy, and we are THERE in the mountains with Donner. Indeed, we have all been there in lesser forms -- facing difficult, life-changing decisions for ourselves &/or loved ones -- and this book both comforts us and makes us glad at our better situations. This is an EXCELLENT choice of a book for books clubs. Short, compelling, hard to put down. It's not an easy, breezy book, but few great works of art are. The non-linear structure makes you think, and it pays off in spades. IWD is a book that will be made into a major movie, I'm sure of it. Read it now, so you get to enjoy it all to yourself before all the hype. It's one of those books you devour and can barely wait to finish, all the while not ever wanting it to end. IWD will echo in your mind long after you've put it down.

  • Does The Donner Party a Service in the Eyes of History
    From Amazon

    Reason for Reading: The Donner Party has always intrigued me, as it does so many others. The majority of this book focuses on the The Donner Party's journey, told through the eyes of Tamsen Donner in a journal format and a collection of letters to her sister; eventually the letters stop and the journal begins to be written to the sister. The story starts as the pioneers are hunkered down for the winter in the mountains but does not run in a linear format. Tamsen goes back to the days of her and George Donner's meeting, she also tells her biography before she met George and does likewise for him. The story flips from the present winter conditions where they are trapped back to the day they decided to start their journey and the majority of the book is devoted to telling the tale of these pioneer's voyage along the trail, how they got off the usual path and ended up trapped in the mountains for winter. Being told from Tamsen's point of view is unique; presenting a hardy, robust, adventurous female pioneer who often has more gumption than some of the men. One becomes attached to Tamsen right from the start. The author has done a wonderful job of creating a character that the reader is invested in and actually hopes for even when historically we know the terrible facts. It isn't until the very end that the cannibalism is dealt with and the author doesn't make a big deal out of it either. She shows how it may have come about. She also shows how three different families, in their own huts, may have handled and been affected by the terrible but life-saving, gruesome act. This part of the story is not sensationalized, it is only described in a few short pages, leaving much to the imagination. This was a page-turner for me. A quick read, with short journal entries and letters it is so easy to just keep turning the pages! An eye-opening story which I think does the Donner Party a service in the eyes of history. With Tamsen Donner's real journal never having been found this is a story we will always wish we could have a glimpse of her eye-witness accounts and this book satisfies, bringing Tamsen Donner alive again as a brave and determined pioneer woman.

  • Gives Tamsen Donner a Voice
    From Amazon

    All American schoolchildren probably learn about the Donner Party. While not an incredibly significant event in American westward expansion, the story of the families emigrating to California who become trapped in the Sierra Nevada mountains and struggle to survive -- some even resorting to cannibalism -- captures our imaginations as much today as it did when it happened. In Impatient with Desire -- an unfortunate title that evokes a lurid romance more than a serious work of historical fiction -- Burton attempts to give a voice to one of the people who perished in that ordeal: Tamsen Donner, wife of the expedition's leader, George Donner. The story is told in the form of Tamsen's imaginary diary entries and letters to her sister. This choice is a good one because it allows Tamsen to recollect important events from her past, shedding light on her character and breaking up what would otherwise be a bleak narrative of four months of misery and starvation. As Tamsen deteriorates, her journal entries become more disjointed and rambling, helping the reader experience her state of mind. The only problem with this narrative structure is that it is sometimes repetitive, and it can be difficult to keep track of when certain key events happened. Tamsen is a fascinating character, a woman ahead of her time. She is portrayed as an adventurer at heart who found a soulmate in her second husband George. She had a strong desire to experience the world and often chafed against the societal restrictions placed on women in her time. She also regarded her family's move westward as her chance to participate in history and help shape what her young country would become. She wholeheartedly believed in Manifest Destiny. This goes a long way toward explaining why she would bring her five young children along on such a treacherous journey. Unfortunately, the other characters outside the immediate Donner family aren't as well-drawn as Tamsen, and it is often difficul to keep them all straight, especially in this non-linear narrative. Still, the story is told in Tamsen's voice, and perhaps even she didn't know her fellow travelers very well. I was most interested in whether she felt she had made a mistake in heading West and putting her children through an unimaginable ordeal. While Tamsen does ruminate on some of the party's mistakes -- taking the disastrous shortcut that led to their being trapped, for one -- she never seems to regret her decisions. Up to the end, she manages to take pride in their adventure and her conviction that they are leading others west in a great mission to form a new land, despite their expedition's failures. I'm not certain I would have felt the same way, or that I would have chosen to stay behind with my husband instead of seeing my children to safety, but a great part of our fascination with this story is wondering why these people made the choices they did and imagining what we would have done in their place. Burton does a good job of bringing Tamsen Donner to life in this novel, and helping us understand her a bit better.

  • Impatient with Desire -- [...]s take!
    From Amazon

    A few weeks ago, the author of Impatient with Desire contacted me about reading, reviewing, and creating discussion questions for her new novel. Now I'll admit, when I read that the topic was the Donner Party, I hesitated -- a lot. I know very little about this unfortunate tragedy -- and really had no desire to learn more. However, the author explained the novel was written as a Tamsen Donner's journal and that it is a quick read. So, I decided, "why not?" While Impatient with Desire does address the events that led to cannibalism and other tragic acts, the heart and spirit of this novel is truly a romance. Through Tamsen's letters and fictional journal entries, we witness a marriage that is beautiful and a pleasure to witness. Tamsen's sacrifices for her children, and especially for her husband, are awe-inspiring and powerful. Gentle moments from their courtship were especially lovely, as evidenced in the following passage: While watching her soon-to-be-husband painstakingly build a stone wall... "He was in no hurry nor rush -- I would come to understand that he cared more about the building than the completion -- and my heart said, I will cast my lot with this calm, deliberative man who cares about the fit and rightness of things." On a another level, Desire is an adventure story -- reminding this reader of how courageous and, quite honestly, foolhardy those early settlers were. I did not realize that there were forty-three children -- many under the age of ten -- in the Donner's excursion. This was painful to read about since children have no voice. But I also appreciate that this complex country of ours owes adventurers a debt of gratitude. I've been fortunate to have visited all 50 states and can't imagine our country without the Rocky Mountains or the Badlands or the California coast. And I should follow Burton's lead in not judging the pioneers. She does an admirable job of not censuring the Donner Party -- allowing readers to form their own opinions and judgements about the events. Tamsen's voice is authentic and strong -- her focus is on the lives of her five children and husband and she is unapologetic, even when wracked with anger and doubt. I do think this novel would be a good choice for a book club -- the length and speed of the structure results in a fast-paced narrative that only takes a few hours to finish. In addition, the neutral tone allows readers to form their own opinions of the events -- and my discussion questions are available for free from the author's website to help facilitate discussion, too!

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