Friday, April 10, 2020

The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown

The Indifferent Stars Above by Daniel James Brown
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I couldn't help thinking as I read that this book is like Little House on the Prairie for grownups. In some ways. Ok, yes, that sounds nuts, but let me explain. The Little House books focused on Laura's wonder at the world and in little things around her, but you could also see the hardships of her life – told gently. They depicted tough times, certainly, but never got too nitty-gritty. They softened the edges of that life to make the story suitable for children.

The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of a Donner Party Bride tells it like it was. It's a fascinating history lesson about life in the 1840s in general, and in specific about life for families journeying a long distance across North America to settle elsewhere. It helps you understand what that trek would be like day in and out, and the dangers wrought by passing through vast areas where there was no possibility of buying supplies or obtaining medical help.

Interestingly, it depicts many experiences that the real family in the Little House books would have endured, but that were just too harsh for a children's tale. This book illustrates what a few small joys of that kind of trip must have been, as well as the many brutal hardships and dangers, all in vivid, non-judgmental detail. And that's just the first half of the book before the Donner Party has to resort to eating folks (that last part, thankfully, was not part of the Little House world).

However, that final element is something that made me a little afraid to read this, but it was handled so well that I was able to finish the book without feeling the need to toss it aside. Most people immediately think of cannibalism when they hear about the Donner Party, but if you weren't aware of that, I think you should know about it going in. It's horrific what they suffered, but the most horrifying parts are handled as gently as possible (but yes, you still hear details). And it's just one part of a larger story; there is so much fascinating detail here about life crossing the country on wagons and about how the horrific events impacted the survivors' later lives.

It was incredibly readable, even for someone like me who wasn't sure I could handle the grimmest aspects of the tale. The author handled the delicate subject beautifully.

Note: I read this book in 2017 when I'd taken a break from blogging. I reviewed it for Goodreads, though, and am belatedly adding the review of this wonderful book here.

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