“The Hunger” by Alma Katsu BOOK REVIEW

The Hunger

Publication Date: 05 March 2019

Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons

ISBN: 9780735212534

Genre: Horror

Strong Point: The story line is very well organized cunningly written.

Weak Point: There are perhaps a lot of characters and it can be a bit confusing sometimes.

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Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️ (3.65/5)

Read book blurb here


“THE HUNGER”

“Na’it”. Hunger. We have all experienced it. But this is a different kind of hungriness. Or is it not?

However, to say that this book talks only about hunger is to miss a lot of very interesting references and a great variety of layers which are in-built in the story.

The novel is fascinating. It takes place in the newly-born United States of America in 1846. A group of people united in a caravan to try to travel to the West, to California, departing from the city of Independence.

However, this part of the new country was still quite unexplored and only some intrepid men had been able to cross the mountains to reach the West and build there Sutter’s Fort.

And if those expeditions had been hard and dangerous, imagine doing the travel with whole families (children included) and close to Winter.

The different characters narrate the story. It develops following their diverse points of view. With their descriptions of the situation we can build up the big puzzle which is “The Hunger”.

THE STORY

So this caravan is heading West. But at some point, they decided to split from the known path and take what supposedly was a shorter (but mostly unexplored) way according to the advice of a pioneer, Mr. Hastings.

The Donner family, which was in most ways, the unofficial leader of the caravan, had decided for the group that this was a good idea.

And here is where everything turns bad. Cattle starts to die, some people fell ill from an unknown illness, they are getting very short on food, etc. etc. 

This sickness is somehow quite, let’s say, peculiar and out of the ordinary, because its victims change into something not fully human…but animal, feral…

This sickness is somehow quite, let’s say, peculiar and out of the ordinary, because its victims change into something not fully human…but animal, feral…

Furthermore, they are hearing very scary sounds in the wilderness that surrounds them. And they encountered some Indian corpses in the way…

Plus winter is coming, sooner than expected…

Together with the basic plot, we learn about the previous lives of the main characters. We read about what they were doing before joining the caravan and the reason why they had decided to join it. These background stories give cohesion to the main plot and complement the book perfectly. 

SUPERNATURAL IMAGERY 

“The Hunger” is full of supernatural elements. This is reinforced by the fact that the caravan crosses Native American territory and many of their then so called “superstitions” are here mixed with more “traditional” beliefs including innumerable religious allusions.

The other members of the caravan considered one of the characters, Tamsen Donner, a “witch” basically because she collects herbs and is quite attractive…anyway…

In addition to this, another female character whose name is Elitha Donner, “hears voices” meaning that she could hear in her mind voices of dead people.  

And most importantly is the fact that people, when they are infected by this unknown illness, seem to turn into something which is not entirely human, but part savage. Perhaps the descriptions of these ill people are one of the creepiest aspects of the story.

These mysterious elements wrap the story and enhance it in a superb way. 

THE REAL STORY, THE DONNER PARTY

Before reading “The Hunger” I didn’t know that it was based on a real story called “The Donner Party”.

They were a group of American pioneers who travelled West and who suffered extreme hardships to reach their destination. It was even said that they had to succumb to cannibalism in oder to survive. But no one could prove this fact. 

The group departed from Missouri on the Oregon Trail in 1846 but they branched off to follow the so called “Hastings Cutoff”.

However, it took longer than expected as this was unexplored territory. Because of this, they lost some cattle and wagons. There were also some problems and misunderstandings amongst the members of the caravan.

They were also caught by an early snowfall which worsened their already precarious situation. As they were in the mountains, and because of all the snow, the ways were cut and rescue parties could not reach them until some months later.

Only 48 survived. 39 died.

FINAL THOUGHTS ABOUT “THE HUNGER”

This book has been a great surprise for me. I had not previously heard about it but when the lovely Johann started to read it as part of her Instagram #50states50horrorbooks challenge I decided it to give it a try. She ended up not liking it as much as I did!

The story is quite intriguing, especially as I now know that it is partly based on a real episode. 

The mixture of reality, fantasy and the supernatural is always a good one for me. Furthermore, Alma’s rich descriptions and vocabulary make the experience even better.

Her narrations are so vivid and good that I found myself sometimes quite scared while reading it in bed before going to sleep. 

However, the book not only talks about hunger. There is much more.

We read about the fear of the unknown. The same fear the first pioneers must have felt when discovering unknown territories. The same fear the families of the story must have felt regarding what surrounded them…a mixture of what they considered pagan beliefs (those of the Native Americans) plus the supernatural elements encircling them. And without forgetting, of course, their own religious fanaticism.  

In addition to this, we also read about Puritanism, that of the first inhabitants of the States who migrated from Europe after being prosecuted there by their religious beliefs. And of witchcraft, or what they considered to be witchcraft, but it is only just again the fear of the unknown mixed with jealousy from someone who is just not “normal”, like everyone is. Someone who does not behave “properly”, like a “good Christian” would.

Furthermore, we read about men and their ugly behaviours when they are put to the limit, tested by harsh conditions, and haunted by their own demons, their own pasts. 

And this is where the book gets even more interesting. Alma is not only talking about physical hunger. She talks about other types of hunger we feel rooted deep inside us. She shows us how this hunger consumes humans, up to the point that this is what is really moving us in life, the insatiable “mental” hunger.

For some of the characters this mental hunger, this insatiability, means guilt for the death of a loved one. For others means fear; fear of losing their status in society even if this means they have to live with someone they don’t love. For others means love; love for their offspring, for whom they would do anything, even killing themselves to sacrifice their lives for those of their loved ones. And for others means shame; shame of not being able to stand for what they really are, and have to hide their feelings because they would be labelled as an “abomination”, someone unnatural, a freak. 

For all this, and much more, I strongly recommend the reading of “The Hunger”. I am really sure you won’t be disappointed.

By the way, which is your “Hunger”? 😉

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