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Houston, James D.

ISBN 10: 0375411038 / ISBN 13: 9780375411038
Published by New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. dj, 2001
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SIGNED hardcover first edition - First printing. SIGNED on the title page. A novel of pioneer courage and survival in the face of trouble. Follows the Donner Party, with its cast of young and old adventurers, through its ordeals, with special focus on leader James Frazier Reeds's eight-year old daughter, Patty (Houston now lives in Patty Reed's former house, which gives this book an interesting perspective) . Map endpapers. 317 pp. Dust jacket praise from William Kittredge and Kevin Starr, who praise both the storytelling and the historical accuracy. Very near fine in a like dustjacket. Bookseller Inventory # 35468

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Bibliographic Details


Publisher: New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2001. dj

Publication Date: 2001

Binding: Hardcover

Dust Jacket Condition: Dust Jacket Included

Signed: Signed by Author(s)

Edition: 1st Edition

About this title


Snow Mountain Passage is a powerful retelling of the most dramatic of our pioneer stories—the ordeal of the Donner Party, with its cast of young and old risking all, its imprisoning snows, its rumors of cannibalism. James Houston takes us inside this central American myth in a compelling new way that only a novelist can achieve.

The people whose dreams, courage, terror, ingenuity, and fate we share are James Frazier Reed, one of the leaders of the Donner Party, and his wife and four children—in particular his eight-year-old daughter, Patty. From the moment we meet Reed—proud, headstrong, yet a devoted husband and father—traveling with his family in the "Palace Car," a huge, specially built covered wagon transporting the Reeds in grand style, the stage is set for trouble. And as they journey across the country, thrilling to new sights and new friends, coping with outbursts of conflict and constant danger, trouble comes. It comes in the fateful choice of a wrong route, which causes the group to arrive at the foot of the Sierra Nevada too late to cross into the promised land before the snows block the way. It comes in the sudden fight between Reed and a drover—a fight that exiles Reed from the others, sending him solo over the mountains ahead of the storms.

We follow Reed during the next five months as he travels around northern California, trying desperately to find means and men to rescue his family. And through the amazingly imagined "Trail Notes" of Patty Reed, who recollects late in life her experiences as a child, we also follow the main group, progressively stranded and starving on the Nevada side of the Sierras.

Snow Mountain Passage is an extraordinary tale of pride and redemption. What happens—who dies, who survives, and why—is brilliantly, grippingly told.


Snow Mountain Passage is a novel about the Donner Party. Still reading? Never fear, this is no corpse fest along the lines of Piers Paul Read's Alive, and its concerns are anything but prurient. For James Houston, who has written movingly about California in the past, the Donner Party's experiences exemplify the ambition, the courage, and the sheer hubris of those who ventured into territory as unfamiliar to them as the moon. His book is not just a blow-by-blow account of what went wrong and who ate whom, it's a searing portrait of both the promises and the perils of the American dream.

Houston follows the events of 1847 through the eyes of James Reed and his daughter Patty. Exiled from the party after he accidentally killed one of its members, Reed made it over the Sierras before snow locked what is now called Donner Pass. His family, however, did not. Along with more than 80 other stranded emigrants, they erected crude cabins below the summit and settled in for a long winter of hunger, cold, madness, and cannibalism, chronicled by Patty Reed in prose of uncommon urgency and even beauty. Here, for instance, she watches as her mother walks away with the first rescue party, leaving her by the shores of Truckee Lake:

My body was like an empty bottle sitting on a dark shelf in an empty cupboard. A cold sun was shining. While we stood there the wind came up, rushing through the pines with a sound like surf, a gushing roar like water on the rise, as if an ocean of ice water had begun to pour across the world.
In contrast, the book lags while James Reed crisscrosses California, attempting to scare up a rescue party for his family. And the author spends far too much time describing the landscape. This reader found at least half her attention back at Truckee Lake with the starving emigrants, wondering guiltily, "Have they eaten anyone yet?" Still, the book generally moves along at a terrific clip, its characters sketched with swift, sure strokes, and their disastrous decisions depicted without excuses or blame. "You couldn't have stopped him," Patty thinks about her father, who persuaded his traveling companions to take the fatal route. "Or stopped any of it." The Donner Party's fate, Houston implies, was as inevitable as America's great westward expansion. But like that epic movement, Snow Mountain Passage highlights both the best and the worst in human nature. --Mary Park

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Store Description - the name used by Volk and Iiams, Booksellers- specializes in first editions of twentieth century literature, with an emphasis on women authors, African American, Native American and Latin American authors - plus mystery & detective fiction, science fiction & fantasy, poetry and children's & illustrated books. We try to offer many uncommon books, and have a large selection of first books, and books by authors who are less frequently collected. Of the approximately 50,000 volumes in stock, the majority are hardcover first editions, although we also stock vintage science fiction paperbacks as well as sf digests and pulps. We also have a large selection of books signed by the author and uncorrected proof copies. Less than 50% of our stock is catalogued, so please inquire if you are searching for specific titles. Selling books by mail order and on the internet since 1993. We have a large booth dedicated to books (called Books Upstairs) at the Antiques Upstairs Mall, 5 Main Street, Jackson, CA. (open every day from 10-5) The emphasis there is on Western Americana, children¿s books and inexpensive reading copies. In 1998 we relocated our main business from Sacramento to the Sierra foothills of Amador County, about 35 miles east of downtown Sacramento and between Ione & Sutter Creek. There, on 10 acres of rolling oak-covered hills, we built a ¿bookhouse¿ for our books. When we are there, we welcome visitors by appointment (call 209-274-6960 or, in the US only, toll free at 1-877-bookfev or contact us by email Our web page is Traditional bookseller grading used - fine is our highest grade (an "A"), very good is above average (a "B), good is average (a "C"). All significant flaws are described; dust jackets are protected by archival covers, and books are packed carefully for shipping. We welcome questions by email or phone.

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Terms of Sale: is a partnership between Christine Volk and Eugene Iiams, Booksellers. Our mailing address is PO Box 696, Ione CA 95640 USA. Our store is located at 5 Main Street, Jackson, CA 95642 USA. Email: Phone: 209-274-6960. We accept Mastercard, Visa AMEX, Discover, checks or Paypal, whichever is most convenient for customers. Please contact us if you have any questions, or want to confirm availability. All dustjackets are in archival mylar covers, and books are packed ...

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