Impatient with Desire

The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner

By Gabrielle Burton
(Hyperion, Paperback, 9781401341664, 256pp.)

Publication Date: March 2011

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Selected by Indie Booksellers for the Summer '11 Reading Group List
“Impatient With Desire tells the story of the trials of the Donner Party through the eyes of Tamsen Donner -- wife, mother, adventurer and, ultimately, survivor -- who made great sacrifices for the sake of her family. Her story is told simply, in letter and journal format, and, in the end, you'll understand and appreciate the pioneer spirit that is the foundation of the westward movement.”
-- Mary Toni, R.J. Julia Booksellers, Madison, CT


The Donner Party
You know how some died.
Here's how some lived.

"My heart is big with hope and impatient with desire." --Tamsen Donner, a letter to her sister

In the spring of 1846, Tamsen Donner, her husband, George, their five daughters, and eighty other pioneers headed west on the California-Oregon Trail in eager anticipation of new lives in California. 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 to stunning life a woman--and a love story--behind the myth. Historians have long known that Tamsen kept a journal, though it was never found. In Impatient with Desire, Burton imagines this lost journal--and paints a picture of a remarkable heroine in an extraordinary situation.

About the Author

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.

Conversation Starters from


  1. Impatient with Desire begins with the following sentence:
    “Imagine all the roads a woman and a man walk until the reach the road they’ll walk together.” What multiple levels of meanings does this sentence have within the context of the novel? Why is the metaphor of a road an especially evocative first impression for Impatient with Desire?

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