Impatient with Desire

Written by Gabrielle Burton
Review by Nancy Castaldo

It is hard to visit the Sierra Nevada Mountains and not think of the historic Donner Party. As your car climbs those twisted mountain roads you can’t help think of the pioneers who became trapped for a winter so close to their destination and resorted to cannibalism. These people have also fascinated author Gabrielle Burton. She spent years researching them, and her previous book, Searching for Tamsen Donner, tells the story of her research travels. But rather than write a nonfiction work this time, she has turned to fiction to tell their story.

Impatient with Desire tells the tale of the tragic group who set out in the spring of 1846 for California, a land rich with opportunity. The Donners, like the others in the party, were bringing their children with them. They were to be some of the first families in California, an exciting proposition. Unfortunately, 87 of them became trapped in the mountains during the winter of 1846-1847. The handful of survivors of that winter ultimately had to turn to their dead for sustenance, spawning a host of legends.

Burton focuses on the tale from Tamsen’s perspective. She poetically weaves stories of life on the trail with the hardships Tamsen is experiencing as she attempts to keep her family alive. It is both heartbreaking and engrossing. Tamsen’s voice is rich and believable, and readers will hear it long after they put the book down.