Quite recently I read another fictional book with a supernatural angle The Hunger based on the same true subject, the Donner party of pioneers who came to grief, back in the mid 19th century when thousands of brave and some plain foolhardy, folk set off with their wagon trains to cross the Sierra mountains from Cincinatti, headed West towards California to try and build a better life. What bravery, how hard it must have been in these days centuries before tripadvisor and google maps and without even any real trail or markers to follow.
Both these books are wonderful, yet rather different accounts of the same true journey.
When winter comes is told in the intimate first person voice of a young woman who leaves her poverty stricken feckless and violent family home, following a series of mishaps.
The book begins in 1859 when our narrator is a rather sedate married woman, living a quiet life of domesticity bringing up her girls, meeting up with her friends at a quilting bee, and looking after her husband, Jacob, who presents her with a journal as a gift. As she begins to put pen to paper she is unsure what she will write about as every day is the same. But as soon as she begins, memories of her past come flooding back and memories she had suppressed clamour to be told.
In a series of flashbacks to 13 years earlier when she was just 15, we learn how she became involved with the fated journey of the infamous Donner party and her version of events unfolds in all its grim pathos. As winter halts the travellers in their tracks terrible choices have to be made which will scar her for life.
We watch her grow and change from quite a selfish young madam into a reliable and stoic young woman. This is a coming of age born of necessity and hardship that I wouldn't wish on my worst enemy.
The descriptiveness of being part of a legendary journey in times gone by are painted with a deftness and utter plausablity, that makes the reader experience rather than merely read the story. It reads like a memoir and gives you an insight into a fictional characters thoughts and actions around a true event.
It is captivating and harrowing by turn, beautifully thought out and well written with evidence of much in depth research.
If you like historical fiction with a literary quality and a whole host of characters all the more real for their flaws and foibles you'll LOVE this book, I did.
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In the voice of an unforgettable heroine, V.A. Shannon explores one of the most harrowing episodes in pioneer history—the ill-fated journey of the Donner Party—in a mesmerizing novel of resilience and survival.
Mrs. Jacob Klein has a husband, children, and a warm and comfortable home in California. No one—not even her family—knows how she came to be out West thirteen years ago. Jacob, a kind and patient man, has promised not to ask. But if she were to tell her story, she would recount a tale of tragedy, mishaps, and unthinkable choices—yet also sacrifice, courage, and a powerful, unexpected love . . .
1846: On the outskirts of Cincinnati, wagons gather by the hundreds, readying to head west to California. Among the throng is a fifteen-year-old girl eager to escape her abusive family. With just a few stolen dollars to her name, she enlists as helpmate to a married couple with a young daughter. Their group stays optimistic in the face of the journey’s hazards and delays. Then comes a decision that she is powerless to prevent: Instead of following the wagon train’s established route, the Donner Party will take a shortcut over the Sierras, aiming to clear the mountains before the first snows descend.
In the years since that infamous winter, other survivors have sold their accounts for notoriety and money, lurid tales often filled with half-truths or blatant, gory lies. Now, Mrs. Klein must decide whether to keep those bitter memories secret, or risk destroying the life she has endured so much to build . . . (less)