The Hunger by Alma Katsu #GuestPost #BlogTour

Evil is invisible, and it is everywhere. 

Tamsen Donner must be a witch. That is the only way to explain the series of misfortunes that have plagued the wagon train known as the Donner Party. Depleted rations, bitter quarrels, and the mysterious death of a little boy have driven the pioneers to the brink of madness. They cannot escape the feeling that someone--or something--is stalking them. Whether it was a curse from the beautiful Tamsen, the choice to follow a disastrous experimental route West, or just plain bad luck--the 90 men, women, and children of the Donner Party are at the brink of one of the deadliest and most disastrous western adventures in American history. 
While the ill-fated group struggles to survive in the treacherous mountain conditions--searing heat that turns the sand into bubbling stew; snows that freeze the oxen where they stand--evil begins to grow around them, and within them. As members of the party begin to disappear, they must ask themselves "What if there is something waiting in the mountains? Something disturbing and diseased...and very hungry?"

I'm delighted to be on the blog tour for The Hunger by Alma Katsu today. Many thanks to Emily Berge from Glasstown Entertainment for inviting me and to Alma Katsu for writing the guest post I'm featuring today. My 16yo daughter tells me her GCSE History course covers the notorious Donner Party -  so even over here in England the story continues to intrigue people. Alma's post today explores why 170 years later it's still such a fascinating subject

Why the Donner Party Still Fascinates Us

They’re on the History Channel and NPR and NatGeo. They’re a perennial favorite on websites from the Huffington Post to Mentalfloss. Every year, there are more books about them, both fiction and non-fiction. 

How has the Donner Party managed to hold our imaginations for so long? They were only a handful of the nearly half a million pioneers who traveled the Oregon Trail and it happened 170 years ago, a confluence of bad decisions, bad luck, and bad weather of biblical proportions that would see nearly half the wagon party dead before it was over. Yet we can’t seem to let them go.

Given the popularity of The Walking Dead and our national fascination with zombies, it’s tempting to think that cannibalism is the reason. When the survivors were rescued, newspapers reported that they’d resorted to eating the bodies of their dead to stay alive. This sold newspapers but it also sealed the party’s fate. They would forever be remembered for the brutal choice they were forced to make to survive.

Cannibalism may be what grabs our attention but that’s not what holds it. What surprised me when I started digging into the Donner Party’s story is its complexity. It has everything you want in a story: the promise of an epic adventure, challenge and conflict, adversity and heroism. It’s the ultimate accident on the side of the road, there-but-for-the-grace-of-God-go-I. We can’t help but look—and wonder what we would do in their place. The circumstances are horrible—the long journey, the wearing down and stripping away of their humanity, the storm, the cold. Trapped with all the people you hold dearest in the world, the impossibility of escape. What would you do?

It’s a story of great characters. The Donner Party was full of individuals, each with his or her own reasons for making the arduous trek west. Some, including a number of new immigrants, were optimistically looking for a better life. Others were running from trouble. A few were ill at the start of the journey and would die along the way. A few more would die from injury: handling the giant oxen over varied and often brutal terrain was dangerous work. One man was killed in a brawl, his killer exiled. The man they appointed to the lead them through unknown territory, George Donner, was the wrong choice. His name will forever represent what it means to make monumentally bad decisions.

The Donner Party strikes a chord with modern audiences because of the values it represents. It’s not only about survival. It starts out as a story of promise and optimism. It’s the story of what it means to be American. It represents rugged individualism, that if you work hard you can create a better life for you and your family (nearly half the Donner Party were children). It is a tale of Manifest Destiny, the idea that the United States was destined to own all the land of this continent, all the way to the Pacific Ocean.

And like Manifest Destiny, it has a darker side. The land that the settlers traveled and ultimately took for themselves wasn’t free for the taking: it was, of course, occupied by Native American tribes. California, the land that the Donner Party was headed to, belonged to Mexico. In this particular tale, this relentless American hunger gets its comeuppance. The Donners’ story is about boundless American optimism gone horribly wrong. 

Because the Donner story was about taking what you wanted, of being willing to draw a line in the sand and protecting what was on your side of that line. When you look at the list of survivors, you see that some families suffered no deaths while others were nearly wiped out. That’s because some families decided not to share their food. Would more people have survived if those families had not hoarded their supplies? Though who can blame them? They were saving their children from starvation, even if it means other children had to die. It is a choice that no one should have to face, and every man can only answer for himself.

And that’s the real reason the Donner Party’s story still fascinates us. Even when you think we’ve exhausted every horror trope and there’s nothing left to scare us. The Donner Party presents us with the ultimate truth-or-dare: who are you, really? When your back is against the wall, are you the person you like to think you are, or is there something much darker lurking inside?

Thank you so much Alma, I think any story what asks "what would you do" has a hold over us, particularly when it's such a chilling dilemma. I'm looking forward to reading The Hunger and wish you every success with the book.

The Hunger can be pre-ordered from Amazon UK or Amazon US. It will be published by Bantam Press and Transword Digital in the UK, and G.P Putnam's Sons and Transworld Digital in the USA.

Don't miss the rest of the blog tour, details are below.

About the Author

Before she started writing novels, Alma Katsu was both a music journalist and an analyst for the likes of CIA and RAND. She has pounded the halls of the Pentagon, been in the West Wing of the White House, and interviewed rock stars. Her novels—The Taker, The Reckoning, and The Descent (which, oddly enough, have nothing to do with music or national security)—have been published in more than a dozen languages.