Impatient with Desire
By Gabrielle Burton
(Hyperion, Hardcover, 9781401341015, 256pp.)
Publication Date: March 2010
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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 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 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.
Gabrielle Burton's near lifelong obsession with Tamsen Donner -- the wife of the leader of the fatal expedition -- has produced a haunting novel, Impatient with Desire, and a must-read memoir, Searching for Tamsen Donner. Critic Maureen Corrigan says the stories are unforgettable. More at NPR.org
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