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Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Book Review: Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton

Impatient with Desire by Gabrielle Burton
Hardcover, 256 pages
March 9, 2010
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Genre: Historical Fiction

Source: Received from Author for Review

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.

Gabrielle Burton’s writing evokes the true passion behind the movement westward as well as the disappointment and utter feeling of loss of being trapped in the Sierra Nevada Mountains for 4 months. We are allowed to look at the world from the perspective of Tamsen Donner through a fictional journal that she writes. Tamsen was known to have kept a journal, which has never been found, so this sets the book in a realistic setting. Not only do you learn about what the 87 travelers endured while being trapped in the snow, but you experience the excitement of the planned trip as well as the trail experiences themselves.

This journal reads very quickly and you really felt like you were right there with Tamsen as she wrote her journal entries and created her letters to her sister. This story seriously puts a face to the legendary American tale that everyone learns. It certainly connects the reader to the real people who suffered through this tough time.

Gabrielle Burton is also the author of a non-fiction book about Tamsen Donner called Searching for Tamsen Donner. This book chronicles the authors trek with her family to physically follow the trail that the Donner’s took. You can read an excerpt of Impatient with Desire here.

Reviews of this book by other bloggers:

Buy the Book: Amazon | Barnes & Noble | RJ Julia

Also by Gabrielle Burton

searching for tamsen donner
Searching for Tamsen Donner

Find Gabrielle Burton: Website

Copyright © 2010 by The Maiden’s Court


  1. Okay, I was starting to wonder if I was crazy because the author's name and the subject matter seemed familiar -- and it's because of Searching for Tamsen Donner which I think I got earlier. I love the idea of this novel tho -- sounds fantastic!

  2. Audra - oh that's funny! Have you had the chance to read it yet? I would love to know how it is.

  3. I haven't -- I got it as a gift a while ago and never reached it. I might pull it out this winter to read in the snow -- I do enjoy wintry reads when it's snowy here in Boston!

  4. Audra - that would certainly set the mood!

  5. Thanks! for sharing


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