Review | The Hunger | Alma Katsu

Review | The Hunger | TBR Etc.

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. 

Read Alike: The Stand, See What I Have Done, 'Salem's Lot

Quote: "Women were always forced to smile. Tamsen had mastered it so well it sometimes frightened her.”  

Rating: 5/5

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MMD Reading for Growth | A Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner

In 2017, I've really committed myself to reading more books with substance. I LOVE a breezy memoir or page turning thriller, but I find that I am able to devour these guilt free if I also find ways to work substantive novels into the mix. I thought a good way to do this was to try and complete the Modern Mrs. Darcy "Reading for Growth" list.

The book I chose to complete the "Pulitzer Prize or National Book Award Winner" category was The Underground Railroad, by Colson Whitehead. (It's also the group pick for the Goodreads Ultimate Popsugar Reading Challenge Group for February). Now, I KNOW you all don't need me to review this book, because it was everywhere in 2016. It was a #1 NY Times Bestseller, National Book Award Winner, and Ms. Winfrey herself selected it as a book for her book club. At any rate, I did still want to share my reactions.

Review.

I am absolutely a fan of this book, and I feel the praise was well deserved. I recommend that you not read the synopsis. (Actually, that's the way that I prefer to go into most novels- knowing that there are elements I'll like about it and not knowing much else). I read the synopsis on Amazon after I finished the book and was surprised at how much of the plot was given away. The basics: this book a fictional account of a slave named Cora and her attempt to escape from a plantation using the underground railroad. The twist is that this underground railroad is literally a railroad that, with the help of allies, transports anyone that is able to find the secret entrances to the next stop on the line. A fellow slave, Caesar, recruits Cora to escape with him because her mother had escaped years before and he believes her to be good luck. The story unfolds and we follow the two throughout their journey to South Carolina and beyond. 

I wouldn't call this a thriller, but I couldn't put it down. I thought this one would be one of those books that was important to read but very tough to get through, but I was so wrong. This book is fiction first, then history. Because of this, it's accessible to all readers.  I loved that Colson Whitehead told this story with respect and in a way that doesn't let us forget the horrors that occurred in the segregated South.  Whitehead infuses Cora into the worst of situations, all of which are a take on true events (think the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment). The story was almost Forrest Gump like in this way. Cora is a very well fleshed out character who, despite experiencing horrors that not many of us could imagine, retains a sense of humor and hope. She has become one of my favorite characters and her story will stick with me. The writing is subtle and I will come back to this and read it again. I would have liked to more know about some of the secondary characters. This book reminded me about things that were somehow glossed over in my U.S. History education, and I'd recommend it to anyone who enjoys historical fiction, strong writing, and/or memorable female protagonists. 

Quotable.

There were so many powerful sentences in this book, but a couple stood out to me.

Plantation justice was mean and constant, but the world was indiscriminate.

Slavery is a sin when whites were put to the yoke, but not the African. All men are created equal, unless we decide you are not a man. 

Whether in the fields or underground or in an attic room, America remained her warden.

Rating.

5/5