Ever heard of the term “gastronomic incest”? No? I hadn’t either, but I definitely got schooled on the topic while reading this one. This book about the Donner Party was fascinating and not just because I got to read gorey details about cannibalism. This story just really, really put life into perspective. I remember thinking to myself, “It sucks that I ran out of milk and I stubbed my toe, but WHOA. At least I’m not trekking through twenty-five feet of snow while snowblind, sustaining myself only on shoe leather.”
Which brings us back to the gastronomic incest. There were so many details about the Donner Party having to resort to feasting on dead family members and friends that I’m sure I gasped out loud for pages and pages on end. Reading about a woman salivating over the scent of her own husband’s heart roasting over a fire is, well, crazy and upsetting. As I said, there was plenty of these sort of details, but the narrative was written in such a way that you were just PULLING for these people to make it through. We all know how the story ends, but I was hoping that somehow, in an alternate universe, these people would have made different decisions and hadn’t faced such ridiculous odds. Clearly, they were doomed from the beginning. From the decision to waste time looking for cattle, to the lying idiot that told them that they could take a shortcut that would save them time (I’m looking at you, Lansford Warren Hastings). In this case, that time “saved” equaled certain death. The author made the observation that had the Donner Party trek occurred with modern transportation, they could have made the same journey over the mountains in approximately seven minutes. SEVEN MINUTES.
This book was well-researched and included a lot of historical details about what life in general was like in 1867. When a party member died, for example, he discusses funeral customs. There are also descriptions about hygiene practices from that era and it made me want to grab a toothbrush. Descriptions of the effects of UV rays on eyesight, hypothermia and mortality rates are also provided, which allows the reader to really grasp what these people were encountering. It was an easy, fast-paced and satisfying book.
Let’s just say I devoured it.
If you like this, you might also enjoy this book about a giant, deadly FIRE STORM that happened in Hinckley, MN in 1894. It’s called Under a Flaming Sky and it’s written by the same author, Daniel James Brown.
Click here to see some of my previous book reviews. Let me know if you’ve read any of them!