The Indifferent Stars Above

Title: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride

Author:  Daniel James Brown

Publisher: William Morrow, April 2009

Summary:    Upon hearing the words “Donner Party,”  it’s likely that most people remember the most sordid and sensational details of this tragedy. This new account of the Donner party tries to bring the reader past the taboo subject of cannibalism that has been associated with this ill-fated journey for so long. Yes, the facts remain the same, but our interpretation and understanding will be changed by reading this book. The author has gone to great lengths to shine a new light on the emigrants and their reasons for making certain decisions. He focuses his attention on one member of the party, Sarah Graves Fosdick, recently married and traveling with her family and new husband.

Using our current knowledge of the physical and psychological effects of trauma, Daniel Brown has set out to answer many of the questions surrounding the Donner Party tragedy. For example, why did the single men in the group fare so much worse than people traveling with their families? Why did the emigrants suffer the effects of starvation so quickly? In our recent past we have seen protesters on hunger strikes that lasted weeks longer without food than did Sarah and her companions. What psychological effects did the survivors suffer as a result of being on the brink of death for so long? Brown helps us to understand why certain choices were made and the impact these choices had on everyone involved. Imagine being on a camping trip without a tent, lantern, flashlight, stove, bug repellent, sleeping bag, toiletries, or any other amenity. Imagine you cannot bathe, brush your teeth, or wash you clothes and bedding for several months. Now imagine you are surrounded by mountains and several feet of snow and are surviving on leather shoe straps and boiled bones as your only source of food. It’s unfathomable to me. It’s no surprise to find that the Donner party’s fate was sealed by a man so greedy he was willing to divert these poor people from their original trail to Oregon to an uncharted (unbeknownst to them) path across a treacherous mountain range to his fledgling town in California. This is not a dry historical account but a moving and informative tale about brave Americans and their search for a better life.

Who will like this book?: Readers who like American history and adventure stories.

Recommended by: Sue, Circulation Coordinator

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