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Searching for Tamsen Donner (American Lives) Hardcover – March 1, 2009


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Searching for Tamsen Donner (American Lives) + Impatient with Desire: The Lost Journal of Tamsen Donner
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Product Details

  • Series: American Lives
  • Hardcover: 328 pages
  • Publisher: University of Nebraska Press; First Edition edition (March 1, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0803222858
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803222854
  • Product Dimensions: 9.5 x 6.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.4 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,687,630 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

Burton was first drawn to the story of Tamsen Donner in the 1970s, just as she was becoming enmeshed in the women’s movement. She saw in Tamsen an independent spirit—wife, mother, and brave pioneer—with whom she somehow identified. Her career as a writer kept circling back to the Donner party and its tragic end in the Sierra Nevadas in the winter of 1846–47. Finally, in the summer of 1996, Burton, her husband, and their five daughters retrace the steps taken by Tamsen, her husband George, and their five daughters from Springfield, Illinois, to California via the Oregon and California Trails. Trying to reconstruct Tamsen’s lost journal (her body was never found), Burton and family follow the trek of the Donner party—23 wagons and 87 people when they entered Utah—stopping at countless Donner-related sites across the country. The result is a thoughtful and engaging blend of history and memoir that inspires the reader to delve further into the Donner party’s fate, while at the same time enjoying Burton’s struggle to be both a full-time mother and successful writer.

Review

"History lesson, memoir and intimate family portrait all at once, Searching for Tamsen Donner simultaneously re-creates the 1840s and the 1970s, east to west. . . . As dramatic and tragic as the story of the Donner Party is, it shares space here with the tender reflections of a mother of five daughters daughters whose filial companionship on a summer road trip long ago bespoke a very different kind of family journey across the American West." --William Deverell, Los Angeles Times Book Review

"[Searching for Tamsen Donner] is a thoughtful and engaging blend of history and memoir that inspires the reader to delve further into the Donner party's fate, while at the same time enjoying Burton's struggle to be both a full-time mother and successful writer." --Deborah Donovan, Booklist Online

"[Burton] succeeds where other historians and biographers have failed in uncovering and publishing here all 17 of Donner's known letters from the journey. . . . Burton's curiosity to speculate and piece together clues as to circumstances surrounding Tamsen's fate . . . drives the narrative forward as if Burton's own perceived vulnerabilities somehow implicate her in the tragedy. It's the book's final uncoupling of these two parallel lives that is Tamsen Donner's legacy to pioneering woman and Burton's literary triumph." --R. D. Pohl, Buffalo News

"[Searching for Tamsen Donner] is a thoughtful and engaging blend of history and memoir that inspires the reader to delve further into the Donner party's fate, while at the same time enjoying Burton's struggle to be both a full-time mother and successful writer." --Deborah Donovan, Booklist Online

"[Burton] succeeds where other historians and biographers have failed in uncovering and publishing here all 17 of Donner's known letters from the journey. . . . Burton's curiosity to speculate and piece together clues as to circumstances surrounding Tamsen's fate . . . drives the narrative forward as if Burton's own perceived vulnerabilities somehow implicate her in the tragedy. It's the book's final uncoupling of these two parallel lives that is Tamsen Donner's legacy to pioneering woman and Burton's literary triumph." --R. D. Pohl, Buffalo News

More About the Author

Gabrielle Burton is the author of Impatient with Desire, Searching for Tamsen Donner, Heartbreak Hotel, and I'm Running Away From Home But I'm Not Allowed To Cross The Street. She wrote the screenplay for the movie, Manna From Heaven, produced by Five Sisters Productions, (MGM DVD.) Her honors include The Western Heritage Award for outstanding novel, The Maxwell Perkins Prize, the Great Lakes Colleges Association New Writers Award, The Mary Pickford Prize for Screenwriters given by the American Film Institute, 1st Prize, Austin Film Festival Heart of Film Screenwriting contest, and the Nicholl Screenwriting Fellowship given by the Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences. She lives in Venice, CA.


Customer Reviews

My husband randomly picked this book up for me at the Library.
C. B. Lewis
I loved the author's Impatient With Desire so I decided to ignore my misgivings about a book by an author who is on a journey "finding herself".
corgicrazylibrarian
The author peppers this magnificent book with so many wonderful insights and quotes that resonated with me.
Marcie

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Gary Earl Ross on May 5, 2009
Format: Hardcover
In Searching for Tamsen Donner, novelist and screenwriter Gabrielle Burton has crafted a stirring and fascinating blend of feminist memoir and pioneer history. In 1977, long captivated by the story of Tamsen Donner, the wife of George Donner, Burton led her husband Roger and their five daughters on a cross-country odyssey to retrace the steps of the ill-fated 1846 Donner party, best known for resorting to cannibalism while trapped by mountain snows. With the careful precision of the scholar and the fiction writer's eye for detail, she recounts the Burton family journey and re-creates as closely as possible the westward trek of the Donners and their associates. Unlike previous Donner party authors, Burton neither judges nor exploits the all too true horrors of the Donner affair. She brings us their story with a deft melding of objectivity and her strong identification with the title figure.

Though separated by 131 years, the parallel journeys of the Donners and the Burtons are quintessentially American. The pioneer family, also with five daughters, set out in covered wagons for what they hoped was a new life in California--in short, the American Dream. What they got, however, was privation, death, and largely undeserved infamy. The 20th Century family, bonded by love and an understanding of the importance of the mother's work, set out in a Chevy station wagon to find the real Tamsen Donner, a strong woman who ultimately sacrificed her own life for family. What the Burtons got was a deeper love for each other and a profound understanding of the American soul.

Gabrielle Burton had hoped to write a novel about a remarkable pioneer woman, but she realized that the family journey revealed as much about her as it did about Tamsen Donner.
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13 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Paula Becker on July 23, 2009
Format: Hardcover
Searching For Tamsen Donner is a multifaceted exploration of how Tamsen Donner's story captured and inspired Gabrielle Burton, and Burton's subsequent determination to reveal and understand Tamsen as woman and mother, rather than as victim. Maps in hand, Burton and her husband and five daughters followed the Donner Party's trail, ending at the site of the fatal final campsite. Burton's concurrent identities as '70s-era feminist, writer, mother, wife, and woman become her lens to explore Tamsen Donner's life and death, and to muse on Donner's possible motivations. Burton's trip was intended to yield a Tamsen Donner novel. Instead, the insight she gained on that trip became part of her own story, part of her daughters' stories, and part of the family's understanding of who they were as a unit. Readers are the fortunate beneficiaries of the three decades Gabrielle Burton has had to process and reflect upon all of this. Students of history, anyone interested in women's lives/stories/histories, and particularly parents who include their children in their interests (out of necessity or as a means of promoting family identity) will find this book moving and thought-provoking.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Elaine F. Boatin on April 24, 2009
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In her search for Tamsen Donner, Gabrielle Burton was really, of course, searching for herself. This witty, compelling memoir brings the reader along as the Burton family retraces the path the Donner Party took across the continent in 1846. Burton initially identified with Tamsen Donner because they were both mothers of five daughters, and she'd determined to write a novel based on Tamsen's life and experience. The trip was conceived as a search for material and insight about Tamsen, but turned into much more. As we travel with the family from campground to campground--through the prairie and deserts and finally to the death-dealing Sierras--we come to know the spunky Burton girls and the heroically patient Roger. We're with Burton as she muses about the conflict between her role as wife and mother and her determination to be a writer, about her Catholic upbringing, her struggle to stop smoking, her anxiety over the dreadful cost that making one choice over another may exact. We see contemporary America through her very observant eye, which is sometimes critical but always thoughtful and respectful. And then there's the story of the Donner Party's slow movement toward their doom, skillfully woven into the narrative, which Burton manages to make vivid and terrifying all over again, in spite of the many times it has been told. This is a terrific book and deserves a wide audience.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Margaret on April 9, 2009
Format: Hardcover
I have long been fascinated by the story of the Donner party. Now I had a chance to get to know the female heroine, Tamsen Donner. And what better way to learn about her than from author/researcher/enthusiast, Gabrielle Burton?! Both the Donner and Burton journies came to life for me with Burton's vivid descriptions. I appreciated Burton's insight regarding women's liberation and loved the way she wove the past with the "present" (1970s with some reference to 2009 as well). I also related to her juggling career and family. A great book on many levels. Entertaining and educational in so many ways.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By MEL RYANE on June 30, 2010
Format: Hardcover
I loved this book. It's a page turner and exceptionally written. Burton takes the reader into two historic journeys, Tamsen Donner's tale and her own personal story. The book gives us clear pictures of two women forging frontiers in two different eras. The mid-1970's story of a family traversing the country is as compelling as the Donner party carrying the weight of their own dreams in covered wagons.
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