Title: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Historical, Fiction
Length: 450 pages
Book Rating: A+ & A Recommended Read
Complimentary Review Copy Provided by Publisher Through NetGalley
From the number-one bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone comes a powerful American epic about love and heroism and hope, set during the Great Depression, a time when the country was in crisis and at war with itself, when millions were out of work and even the land seemed to have turned against them.
“My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family.”
Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.
By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.
In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.
The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it—the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is a poignant, true to life novel which realistically depicts the hardships of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.
In 1921, Elsinore “Elsa” Wolcott is a twenty-five year old spinster with few hopes of marriage. Her family has crushed her self-esteem and they refuse to support her efforts for higher education. A chance meeting with Rafe Martinelli changes the trajectory of her life after they marry and live with his parents Tony and Rosa on their wheat farm in Texas. While Elsa loves Rafe, he instead dreams of leaving the farm and in his disappointment, he drinks too much and works too little. Even after the stock market crashes, the Martinelli farm hold its own. But when drought strikes and turns their land to dust, Elsa works alongside her beloved in-laws to hold onto their land for her two children Loreda and Anthony. But as the Dust Bowl worsens, Elsa, Loreda and Anthony leave Texas for California with hopes for a brighter future.
Elsa is a pragmatic, hard worker who fears rejection so she avoids speaking of her love her for husband and children. She is proud and continues to hold out hope the weather will turn and the Martinelli farm will once again prosper. Not only is Elsa battling the elements and to keep food on the table, she is at odds with Loreda who is entering the teen years. Her daughter is close to Rafe who fills her head with dreams and hopes far away from Texas.
In order to find a better life, Elsa, Loreda and Anthony embark on a dangerous journey across the southwest to California. With their funds dwindling, Elsa and the children camp alongside other people looking to support their families. Living in tents, Elsa battles the locals’ prejudice for the migrants, struggles to keep her children in school and find work. With few options open, Elsa and her children travel with other migrants and pick various crop for extremely low wages. Finally finding a permanent position, they discover that trying to get financially ahead is still elusively out of reach.
This is also the time period when protestors are trying to rouse support for unions and better wages. They find resistance with farm owners who seize on the migrants desperation to find work to pay them low wages for their backbreaking work. These owners utilize every tool (including violence) at their disposal to prevent the workers from the protest. Loreda has the fire and passion to fight for migrants’ rights but will Elsa’s fears for supporting her family stop her from joining the protests?
The Four Winds is a captivating novel of heartbreak and resilience. Elsa is a strong woman whose anxiety sometimes gets in the way of making hard choices. Loreda is a firebrand whose dedication to the fight for migrant workers is admirable… and dangerous. The various settings spring vividly to life which it makes it easy to visualize the sometimes horrific living and working conditions. Kristin Hannah brings this heartfelt and realistic novel to a bit of sad yet completely uplifting conclusion. I thoroughly enjoyed and HIGHLY recommend this incredible novel.
Personal Note: The Four Winds is not based on my family’s story. Yet it is my family’s story. My great-grandparents, grandparents, dad, aunts, uncles, and cousins lived in Oklahoma during the depression and the Dust Bowl. This novel matches completely with my relatives’ accounts of living through this terrible time. My grandmother was a migrant farm worker who took my dad with her throughout the south where they picked cotton and other crops. It was backbreaking work for extremely low pay, but they survived and as the years passed, finally prospered.