K.Z. Snow's Reviews > The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride

The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown
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's review
May 08, 2012

really liked it
Read from May 06 to 08, 2012


The horrific tale of the 87-member Donner Party and their tragic 1846-47 trek to California is one of the most effective "whine coolers" a chronic complainer can read. All in all, this account is riveting, although the title is misleading. The "Donner Party bride" is no more or less a significant figure than others who played roles in the "saga."

And what a saga. Crossing half a continent to get as far as Truckee Lake was onerous and harrowing enough. But the real horror began with a sudden November 3 snowstorm that stranded the remaining travelers. (Several had died by then, and others had broken off from the original group.) The first rescue party didn't arrive until three and a half months later, and only because of the efforts of brave little band of survivors on snowshoes. Their ordeal was even more hideous than what the people back at the two camps were enduring.

As I mentioned when I started the book, its lack of maps is an unforgivable (and incomprehensible) omission. The author also has a bad habit of frequently breaking from the narrative to insert a page or two or three of explanatory material (e.g., why women live longer than men; how weather patterns develop; etc., etc.) Given the dramatic tension inherent in the story, continually interrupting it with scholarly side-trips is hardly a kind thing to do to an involved reader. (I was so annoyed, I skipped these sections on principle.) A good content editor would have noticed this and either deleted the material or moved it to an appendix at book's end. What I would have appreciated was an index, but there is none (another incomprehensible omission).

Still worth reading, though -- if you're not squeamish.

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