Many thanks to What To Read Next podcast for having me on as a guest today! I recommend The Hunger as a book you should all read.
Publication Date: 3/6/18
Publisher: G.P. Putnam's Sons
Page Count: 384
Synopsis: From Goodreads-
After having travelled west for weeks, the party of pioneers comes to a crossroads. It is time for their leader, George Donner, to make a choice. They face two diverging paths which lead to the same destination. One is well-documented – the other untested, but rumored to be shorter.
Donner’s decision will shape the lives of everyone travelling with him. The searing heat of the desert gives way to biting winds and a bitter cold that freezes the cattle where they stand. Driven to the brink of madness, the ill-fated group struggles to survive and minor disagreements turn into violent confrontations. Then the children begin to disappear. As the survivors turn against each other, a few begin to realize that the threat they face reaches beyond the fury of the natural elements, to something more primal and far more deadly.
Based on the true story of the Donner Party, The Hunger is an eerie, shiver-inducing exploration of human nature, pushed to its breaking point.
Opening Sentence: "Everyone agreed it had been a bad winter- one of the worst in recollection."
My Thoughts: As is common for most elementary students from the 1990s, I was obsessed with the Oregon Train computer game. (Apple IIe version, thank you.) I learned that leaving too late would get you caught in the snow, that dysentery was a life sentence, and that it was better to buy bullets and hunt your own food than it was to buy food at the fort. What I didn't learn about were the real families that were on these trails. So when I heard that The Hunger was a fictionalized account of what happened to the ill fated Donner party with a supernatural twist, I was sold.
The protagonists of this book are all members of the Donner party- a real life group of poineers who traveled from the Midwest to California searching for a new life. They ran into mishap after mishap and eventually got stranded by snow in the Sierra Nevada mountains and had to resort to cannibalism of their dead. (Tough stuff).
I thought this book was so well done. I am drawn to books with strong character and setting, and this fit the bill. Be aware that this is a slow burn, but I found the stories and characters to be so compelling it wasn't an issue for me. There is omniscient narration and we get to look inside their varying motivation- Tamsen, George Donner's wife, struggles between being a misunderstood outsider and being the strong female figure her family needs. Charles Stanton is a single man looking for a new start in California. Edwin Bryant is an author who wanted to write a book about the journey. Katsu intersperses flashbacks into the narrative and it was crazy to see the juxtaposition of the travelers' former lives with their lives today. (One of the men is writing to his friend at Harvard! Cambridge feels like a lifetime away). I knew, in broad strokes, how this story ends. Yet I still found myself hoping that there would be a different outcome for my favorite characters, which to me, is the mark of a great storyteller.
This book was also well researched. There is a supernatural element that slowly comes out, but even that has its roots in reality. I also appreciated that the author touched on Native American/ pioneer relations, a real issue of the time.
This book is raw and dark. I listened to it on audio and appreciated the narration. It reminds me of a Stephen King book (and he himself tweeted about this and called it "deeply, deeply disturbing and hard to put down). It's spooky and gripping- would make for an excellent Fall read.