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Impatient with Desire

3.63  ·  Rating details ·  654 ratings  ·  207 reviews
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
Hardcover, 256 pages
Published March 9th 2010 by Hachette Books
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Jan 14, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Everyone!
I had never heard of the Donner Party nor knew anything about another way to travel west besides the Oregon Trail. So, when I sat down with this book, I had no expectations besides being entertained. I didn't expect Tamsen Donner to catch my heart and hold it through her journal entries and letters to her sister. My heart went out to the families and men that traveled in the party, and every time one died, I could feel the heartbreak and mounting concern that each one brought, as if I, too, was ...more
Laurie Notaro
Oct 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Magnificent book. One of the absolute best I have read in the last several years. Highly recc.
May 29, 2013 rated it really liked it
Westward Ho!
Who wants to go to California without it costing them anything?
As many as eight young men of good character, who can drive an ox team, will be accommodated by gentlemen who will leave this vicinity about the first of April.
Come on, Boys. You can have as much land as you want without costing you anything. The Government of California gives large tracts of land to persons who move there.
~George Donner and Others~
(advert in the Sangamo Journal, 1946)

Oh, pioneers. The Donner Party was
May 04, 2012 rated it really liked it
Originally posted on Guiltless Reading

Not a trashy romance. Really.

The book in one sentence: Tamsen Donner recounts the ill-fated journey of 80+ pioneers through the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846.

My thoughts: I received Impatient with Desire yesterday in the mail through the LibraryThing Early Bird Reviewers, and I got just a bit of an eyeroll from the hubby when he saw the title of the book. I've sort of sworn off trashy romance novels - and this is what this book seemed to be about - an ill
Susan (aka Just My Op)
Dec 05, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Susan (aka Just My Op) by: Tara
Thanks again to Tara, my friend who makes sure I never run out of good things to read.

“All that just to get here. All that grief and confusion and chicanery and betrayal and carelessness and death just to get us here to these dull, thudding, stuporous, barely noticeable deaths.”

“I am a school teacher doing life and death sums.”

Impatient with Desire is the fictionalized story of the very real and tragic Donner Party travels to reach California in 1846 and 1847. Written from the viewpoint of Tamse
Dec 27, 2009 rated it really liked it
This book covers the ill fated journey of the Donner Party in their quest for a new life in California. The narrator is Tamsen Donner, who documents the trip in a journal/letter written to her sister who stayed behind. While the Donners and their five daughters are the main focus, a lot of the story is about other members who joined and left the party for various reasons. Burton did a great deal of research on the historical facts, but the truth is that there is still a lot of mystery surroundin ...more
Elevate Difference
Apr 29, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Impatient with Desire is the story of Tamsen Donner, now-legendary westward pioneer. Tamsen was forty-five when she set out on the California-Oregon Trail with her husband and five children in the spring of 1846. Stranded by early snows, Tamsen and the other Donner Party pioneers spent a harrowing four months in the Sierra Nevadas without supplies. Tamsen sent her daughters out with relief parties and stayed behind with her wounded husband; she died sometime in April 1847, leaving only her lette ...more
Dec 13, 2011 rated it did not like it
Historical fiction novels are quite useful in their ability to introduce readers to topics they are unfamiliar with (and hopefully, this is done accurately). Admittedly, I don’t know much beyond the basics about the Donner Party; which is precisely why I turned to Gabrielle Burton’s “Impatient with Desire” for my lesson. Sadly, “Impatient with Desire” is not what I expected at all. Instead of an intimate, meaty novel surrounding the possible feelings and events involving the Donners; Burton inst ...more
Jun 24, 2010 rated it did not like it
Shelves: fiction, usa
Nabokov once said (and I paraphrase heavily) that a true reader is a re-reader, so my main rating system on here has been based primarily on the question: would I re-read this? The short answer for "Impatient with Desire" is a flat no. But the answer to the *perhaps* more important question, "Did this book inspire a burning desire--an impatient one, you might say--inside me to read anything and everything on the subject at hand?" is an emphatic YES!

Burton's curiosity about the Donners led her
Jan 18, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Carly Thompson
Jan 14, 2010 rated it liked it
A fast read about the Donner Party western expedition of 1847. Narrated in the first person by Tamsen Donner (the wife of George Donner, the leader of the wagon train) as a series of diary entries and letters to her sister Betsey, this novel captures the plight of the trapped would be settlers. The narrative jumps back and forth in time as Tamsen writes of her first husband, happy second marriage to George Donner, the beginning of the westward trek, and the horrible circumstances that lead to th ...more
Tara Chevrestt
Jan 31, 2010 rated it really liked it
Wow. What a tragic story. This novel is about the Donner party that left Illinois for California in 1846. Tamsen Donnor is the wife to the "captain" and it's thru her letters to her sister and her lapses into the past that readers live the tragedy of the trail again. Their problems don't stop at broken wheel axles and ornery oxen, rather more troubles arise from people not getting along than anything else. There is murder, abandonment, and a man named Hastings promising a short cut that turns ou ...more
Feb 09, 2010 rated it liked it
Gabrielle Burton’s “Impatient with Desire” details the ill-fated emigration of the Donner party in 1846. The novel unfolds though journal entries and letters written by Tamsen Donner and provides an intimate perspective to one of the most notorious and mythologized chapters in American history.

I have to give props to Burton for creating an interesting fictional narrative out of the little-known and often contradictory facts about the Donner party history. Tamsen is a fascinating character – a st
Tattered Cover Book Store
Jackie says:

This book covers the ill fated journey of the Donner Party in their quest for a new life in California. The narrator is Tamsen Donner, who documents the trip in a journal/letter written to her sister who stayed behind. While the Donners and their five daughters are the main focus, a lot of the story is about other members who joined and left the party for various reasons. Burton did a great deal of research on the historical facts, but the truth is that there is still a lot of myster
Kilian Metcalf
Sep 23, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Your husband is dying. Your children are dying. You are dying. The rescue party has arrived, but your husband is too weak to leave. Do you stay with your husband and share his fate, or abandon him and leave with your children? This is the decision faced by Tamsen Donner, snowbound in the Sierra Nevada mountains with the remnants of the ill-fated Donner Party. Written in the form of a collection of letters never mailed and journal entries, Impatient with Desire is a fictional exploration of the p ...more
Leah Weisse
Dec 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
I read an advanced copy of this novel written from the point of view of Tamsen Donner, wife of the Captain of the Donner Party. It goes into more than just the story of the trek and the long winter in the mountains. It gives you a really good idea of life in mid-1800 America. Just make sure you eat before reading it!
Aug 22, 2011 rated it really liked it
"When we came here, we were all strangers to ourselves," says [this fictionalized version of] Tamsen Donner, who chronicled that notorious ill-fated trek West in 1846. She is right. And I hope I never know myself as well as she knew herself after those long months of squalid starvation in the Sierra Nevadas.
May 19, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: hardbacks
such a fascinating read!

and actually quiet a fitting one at the times of corona lock downs and not being able to leave and so many people complaining about how bad they are having it while sitting at home having everything they could possibly need - and then reading this book where people are actually on a horrendous lockdown unable to leave not at all having what they need to survive but fighting and hoping and doing their best for months.

i think the author did a great job in giving a real per
Adequate but not really something I’d shove down my friends’ throats. I was super excited to read this because of the natural and macabre interest in the story of the Donner Party, but I didn’t much care for Tamsen. I feel extra guilty even admitting that because I read the Author’s Note at the end, and this novel is closely intertwined with her emotional connection to Tamsen. Her genuine love and dedication to the real life people who lived and died on this journey are beautiful, and I’m only s ...more
Nov 07, 2016 added it
This was not at all what I was expecting. I pulled a short-looking book off the shelf that I could try to finish in one sitting. This was a surprisingly readable fictional re-telling of the Donner party and the decisions that lead them to being stuck in the mountains over an entire winter, and eventually resorting to cannibalism.

Part of what made it so readable was how gorgeously the book is laid out and the artwork sprinkled throughout.
Jul 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
When I started this book, I almost gave up on it because I didn’t think I’d like it and didn’t think it would move quickly. I’m glad I decided to keep going. Earlier this year, I read another book about the Donner Party that made me dislike the Donner family. This book made me come to like them, and even want to cry for them at the end.
Merida Johns
Jan 18, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Burton gives face and emotion and expression of the human condition to the people associated with the this fateful expedition. She not only covers the Donner tragedy in the Sierra Nevada, but expands the story and the understanding of the characters and their motivations and aspirations from childhood days through adult.
Jul 03, 2017 rated it liked it
Shelves: own
It was okay. A bit too back and forth.
Aug 16, 2010 rated it liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nicola L
How far would you go in order to survive?

*Full disclosure: I won an ARC of this novel from the author. I was not obligated to provide a review and all opinions expressed therein are my own.*

I have to say, that if I didn’t know otherwise, the immediate title of this book would imply it is some kind of chicklit or romantic novel. It isn’t by the way. This is actually historical fact written as fiction and is based on a part of American history that I know virtually nothing about, so I was keen to
Who hasn’t been interested in the bizarre, sad, and frightening story of The Donner Party? Well, Ms. Burton became more than a little obsessed with it over the years, and with Tamsen Donner in particular, and we are all the beneficiary thanks to this gem of a novel. Told entirely through letters and journal entries by Tamsen, the story jumps back and forth between now (trapped in what is now Donner Pass, in a makeshift shelter, slowly starving to death with her children and her injured husband), ...more
Jan 14, 2010 rated it liked it
The Short of It:

Burton’s rendition of this tale is both heartbreaking and hopeful.

The Rest of It:

Impatient with Desire was an interesting read. Burton’s tale is based on historic fact, but she had fun with some of the details and switched them around a bit to suit her. I’m glad that she approached the novel in this manner because we all know how the Donner party turned out. There is so little to go on as far as what actually happened but she used what she could find and built a story around i
Feb 04, 2010 rated it really liked it
The 1840’s saw a massive migration to California by American pioneers, and none too notorious were a group of 87 individuals who became marooned in the Sierra Nevada by a blizzard. These people were known as the Donner Party and they became noted for their very taboo method of survival: cannibalism. The center of the party consisted of three families setting out from Springfield, Illinois in the spring of 1846. Their wagon train was later joined by other families when they met up with and branch ...more
Jun 26, 2010 rated it liked it
Upon finishing this book, I immediately went to Wikipedia to find out who actually survived in real life, and what actually happened. It's a fascinating story, though rife with disagreements upon what actually happened while trapped on the mountain (according to children survivors years later). A compelling read, to be sure.

"An early emigrant named Lansford W. Hastings had gone to California in 1842 and saw the promise of the undeveloped country. To entice settlers he published a guide for pione
Nicola Mansfield
Jun 01, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Reason for Reading: The Donner Party has always intrigued me, as it does so many others.

The majority of this book focuses on the The Donner Party's journey, told through the eyes of Tamsen Donner in a journal format and a collection of letters to her sister; eventually the letters stop and the journal begins to be written to the sister. The story starts as the pioneers are hunkered down for the winter in the mountains but does not run in a linear format. Tamsen goes back to the days of her and G
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Died September 3, 2015.

Gabrielle Burton, awarded an MFA in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, currently splits her time between her Buffalo home and Los Angeles, where she is involved with her daughters' Five Sisters Production Company. Burton is the author of Heartbreak Hotel as well as the nonfiction work I'm Running Away from Home, But I'm Not Allowed to Cross the Street: A Primer

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