Searching for Tamsen Donner
In 1846 Tamsen Donner and her family left Springfield, Illinois, in search of a new life in California. In 1977 Gabrielle Burton and her family spent a summer vacation tracing the path of the Donner Party, attempting to honor Tamsen’s legacy and to separate the facts from the sensational stories of the ill-fated Donner voyage. Burton tells both her personal story and Tamsen Donner’s in intertwining segments, and the result is occasionally muddled. The passages recounting the pioneers’ journey are vivid, and Burton’s passion for her subject is apparent. Unfortunately, she tries too hard to identify with her subject, and outside of superficial similarities, anything else is a stretch. Readers who enjoy a blend of contemporary personal narrative with their history may like Burton’s memoir; readers who prefer their historians to remain distant from their subject should pass on this one.