The Hunger

The Hunger

A Novel

Book - 2018
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"A retelling of the fate of the Donner Party, with a Walking Dead style twist"--
Publisher: New York :, G.P. Putnam's Sons,, [2018]
ISBN: 9780735212510
Branch Call Number: FIC KATS
Characteristics: 1 volume


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As a fan of both historical fiction and supernatural horror, when I heard there was a new novel out about the Donner Party, I knew I had to read it. Enter Alma Katsu’s new novel, The Hunger. Set in 1846, this novel is based on the true story of the Donner Party, a doomed group of 100 people heading to California’s fertile valley farmland by way of wagon train. As tragedy after tragedy laid waste to the group, only a handful ever made it.
The Donner wagon train contains two large wealthy families, a beautiful woman rumored to be a witch, a large Mormon family without a patriarch, and some single men, who are all leaving their family farms in Illinois hoping for a better life. As Katsu weaves her story around their lives and voices, the reader gets a good sense of just how hard it was for people on the trail to make it: they must give birth on the trail, tend to the sick, hunt their food, gather their medicine from plants, and deal with the physical act of walking nearly 12 hours per day. Though many of the group start off as strangers to one another, the reader comes to find their lives and sins are intimately connected, revealed through haunting glimpses into all of their shady pasts. As the group members begin to become aware of these connections, their camaraderie is quickly worn away. These divisions spell their doom as their environment grows more barren and a supernatural evil begins to prey on them. (No spoilers!)
This book is not for the faint of heart. It showcases the best, as well as the worst, parts of human nature when faced with a raw survival situation. Despite the difficult subject matter, I found this to be an extremely captivating read, and eager to read more about the Donner party (perhaps my next read will be a non-fiction account of this tragedy, The Indifferent Stars Above: The Harrowing Saga of the Donner Party, by Daniel James Brown). Katsu changed a lot of the real story, but she used many real life events that happened to these real people and seamlessly added a supernatural evil. The result is totally thrilling and cinematic. I eagerly await a film adaptation! (Submitted by Mandi)

Karen_Weber Jul 11, 2018

An alternative and fictional account of what REALLY happened to the famous Reed-Donner party and their doomed 1860s expedition from Springfield, Missouri to the western edges of the US. A fascinating look into local lore and legends of settlers and native people. This story left me wanting. The pace was slow and repetitive. I often lost track of characters because they were referred to by different names (first name, last name, nickname...). It was an interesting concept but I didn't love it.

Beatricksy Jun 23, 2018

Disappoiiiiiiinted. I was fascinated by the first, oh, third of the book. It was slow, yes, but in a dreadful building kind of way, subtle and sneaky and sending gentle chills down the readers' spines. It was cautiously introducing characters to us while keeping their deep dark secrets hidden, so that it could tantalizingly hold these morsels of character development in front of us. For all its intense build up in the first third, the book fell into a long meandering wander for the middle, seemed to forget itself, and then never could quite recover in the end, where things just HAPPEN, and things happen so quickly all of a sudden that it feels chaotic and confusing...and somehow boring and mundane and cliche. Considering the fame of the Donner Party is the last bit of their lives in the mountains, it sure blitzed by the reader quickly. It's a book that wants to look at the darkness in humans, but it does so clumsily, with a message that I can't quite seem to figure out. To be fair, it does look at its time period, with its racism and casual abuses and such, very well, and it does have a good sense of place. I simply felt like I was promised one thing and got another, and the end result is just muddled and rather unappealing to look at. Like a pile of bloated corpses in the snow.

fineplan May 16, 2018

Character driven historical horror with a deep sense of paranoia.

Obviously, the Donner Party events are horrifying in their own right, but Katsu is able to distill the terror even further with her addition of possibly supernatural elements. There are numerous familiar seeming horror elements that pop up (is Tamsen really a witch? what's with the weird half-dead looking guy? plains spirits? etc.) and many of the characters feel they are unforgivable or broken. This all ramps up the paranoia level about what is really going on.

At first I thought the flashbacks slowed things down a bit too much -- and they do waver at that line. Overall, however, they add much to the story as they not only deepen our connection to the characters, but also allow for the exploration of other themes such as redemption.

Apr 03, 2018

Historical fiction with a supernatural flavor. A well written and captivating take on the ill-fated Donner party, with a good writing style and strong characterization.


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