The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride – Book Review

Published Date: April 28, 2009

Publishing Co.: William Morrow

Pages: 352

Goodreads Synopsis.

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars

A saga that has fascinated people since the late-1840s.

Author Daniel James Brown does a fantastic job of weaving the tale of the doomed emigrant party that we’ve all heard of at some point in our lives. The tale of a group of early Americans, who with big dreams, traveled the wrong path to glorious California and became stuck in the Sierra Nevada mountains as winter hit. Eventually, almost all of them, would have to eat their fallen friends in order to survive.

Brown not only brings light to the every day trials they faced before becoming entangled in Mother Nature’s snare but also highlights the science behind the way people behave in horrific situations, and how the human body handles things like starvation and hypothermia. He paints a brilliant picture of life during this time period before tragedy struck and how the survivors tried to rebuild their lives after.

This has been so thoroughly researched that you’re bound to hear some new tidbits to an old story. The narrative doesn’t shy away from difficult subjects. For instance, one mother boiled ox hide until it became a gelatinous goo to feed her children. Not much for flavor but apparently nutritious. Some members of the camp would boil and re-boil ox bones until they were soft and chewy.

While it is a bleak tale, it is also one of the stubbornness of the human spirit and the adamant will to live.

But, I also wonder why they didn’t start eating the flesh of dead people sooner. I can only imagine the mind set one must get to before they can actually consume human flesh, but there were a few bodies that weren’t touched at all in the beginning even though they had already run out of meat. It feels as though perhaps, a few more people could have survived if they had come to terms with their impending cannibalism sooner.

Just some food for thought.

Get it?

I’ll show myself out.

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13 thoughts on “The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride – Book Review

  1. *ba dum tish*

    Most people at that time would consider cannabilism as something that would affect the state of their soul, ie, it was as much a sin as was murder. Plus, eating human flesh has always carried a social and psychological stigmata. So starve to death or eat the flesh of the dead and never belong to society again…

    1. The author does mention the thing about the state of their soul. I get the stigma but I much prefer to survive, everyone else be damned. They didn’t have to endure what those people did. But alas, you are correct, different times.

      1. Make believe but very cool make believe and based on stories that have happened. Even here in Australia there was the case of the escapee convicts from Tasmania who ate each other.I think there’s a movie of that tale called Vandiemans land

  2. I remember reading an account of one of the survivors, and afterwards I just had to sit there for a few minutes. I don’t fault those people for one instant for what they did to survive. I think that’s what it was: they had to come to terms with eating their dead companions and you have to get truly desperate to be in that mindset.

    1. I never want to have to eat human but I feel like if I did, I would have done it faster than some of them. But, you can think you’ll do one thing, once you’re faced with actually doing it, you may react differently. I feel like my survival instinctions are strong and I wouldn’t give a fuck what anyone thought of me afterwards but that’s a 21st century mindset.

      1. Yuuuup. I can’t say “I’d NEVER do…” because I don’t know what kind of situation I’m going to be in where it might be a choice between life or death. People act differently when they’re in dire situation. Instinct often takes over and it can be hard to break out of that. It’s why fire fighters are fucking boss. Those peeps are running TOWARDS the fire.

  3. I read another book about the Donner Party that came out last year (or maybe the year before?) and it was great, but I keep hearing this one is so good. I didn’t think I’d want to read two books about this but it sounds so intriguing.

      1. It’s The Best Land Under Heaven by Michael Wallis. It was a great read, I don’t think any necessarily groundbreaking new info or anything like that, maybe just a different lens for telling the story. As soon as I mentioned it to a friend she said this one was an absolute must-read. Maybe it’s been long enough that I can read another book on the topic!

      2. I haven’t read the other book but this one is worth trying. I really enjoyed it. There’s a great mix of the story plus scientific fact that sheds light on why certain things happened.

      3. I’m adding it to my list…I know the general outline now but the one I read was more about westward expansion too as opposed to the scientific part of it, that sounds really interesting.

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