Sunday, May 03, 2009

Oddly Bland

Ti: The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride
(ARC Ed, HC pub Jun 09)
Au: Daniel James Brown
Bookmark: Dogeared corners, b/c I'm racist against ARCs

I had never read or heard much about the Donner Party, and only knew the most basic of details about what they resorted too. That was my main reason for picking up the book, and had I already known quite a bit about the history, I might not have finished this account.

The author tries to tell the story, not really from the perspective of one member of the party, Sarah Graves, but does focus on her quite a bit, I suppose as a way to humanize it. Somehow, the author manages to wander around in the zone between a solid history and a telling of one person's experiences without really managing either. Granted, in his intro, he explains nearly all of the issues I had with the book, so I can't blame him for missing the mark - he wrote what he was aiming for: its not meant to be a comprehensive history, Sarah left little of her own writing, and so some things had to be inferred. While I'm sure the author is correct in saying that he can use universal human reactions to certain situations such as extreme cold and hunger to describe what the pioneers went through, he somehow does it in a squishy, timid way that just makes me feel deeply the fact that it's inferred and not altogether a solid fact about what was happening to anyone at the given time described.

All that said, what solid history he does cover is covered in an engaging way, and I wanted to read the whole thing to find out what happened to these people. Even though it was hard to connect what he described to Sarah in my mind, I was pretty fascinated by the physical, emotional and psychological reactions he describes people having in the face of these extreme conditions.
I wanted to really like this book, as it falls into one of my favorite reading categories of "creative non-fiction," but in the end I have to give it a high meh.

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posted by ~e at 12:27 AM


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