The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
Best Literature & Fiction
Rosepoint Publishing: Five stars
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.
“My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family.”
Elsa Martinelli got sick when she was a teenager and though she survived, the family kept her at arm’s length and isolated until too late for marriage, she is overwhelmed and succumbs to the attention of the first man to notice her, the son of landowners, a Texas farmer.
Her urban family, wealthy and more worried about appearances than the love of their daughter, dumps her at the porch of the boy’s family. Rafe’s family has no alternative other than to take her in and teach her about the farm where she must learn to (gasp!) work. But they are good people, as we used to say “the salt of the earth.” Rafe does what he must with a shot-gun marriage and gives up his dreams of college.
There is much to learn on the farm and the years pass, now with two children, and a tenuous marriage, but his parents come to embrace Elsa as the daughter they never had and love their grandchildren. When the drought hits and hits hard several years after the Great Depression started, the struggle to make severe changes in an effort to survive wears on all of them.
Rafe’s parents are determined to stay on their land, but Rafe is ready to head west. When their son confronts a devastating lung disease born of the Dust Bowl situation, Rafe has enough and he leaves them all in the dead of night. Elsa makes the difficult decision to head west, alone, with her two children hopefully to save her son.
But the harrowing drive alone to California is just the beginning of more years of extreme poverty, struggle, and the overwhelming competition for manual labor work with the many thousands who’ve also left their own Dust Bowl states to find a better life. It’s not.
My father’s family were among those who left for California (from Missouri) in 1938 and lumped in with the cruel denigration of “Okies” (Oklahoma). The staggering numbers of the destitute overwhelm the state and the farmers quickly take advantage of the infinite labor pool setting outrageously low levels of pay for back-breaking work sun-up to sun-down.
Emigrant camps blossom the length of every fertile valley with crops to tend including cotton, which when ready to pick is cruelly heavy with thorns as well as cotton bolls. The author paints a grim picture of the unsanitary conditions of tent and cardboard camps, lacking any potable water and tied to the “company store” where more money is deducted from paltry wages.
There are themes of love—the love given to each other in extreme situations—family, the love of a mother for her children, hopeless conditions, and those who overcome and who don’t. It’s not that hard to imagine the same can happen to anyone. The haves and have-nots and those who take advantage of the victims.
“Doom and gloom and agony on me” says the little ditty riddled throughout the old “HeeHaw” variety show. But can there be any light at the end of the tunnel?
The author does an amazing job of describing the devastation wreaked by the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, the thousands of migrants that choked California’s economy, services, and infrastructure. The characters are so well fleshed you can smell them, see the cardboard in their shoes, and wonder how much longer they can live on stone soup, their ribs prominent.
In the end, this is not a totally depressive narrative but one of triumph over all the odds and ultimately the indomitable spirit of human nature.
Genre: Literary Fiction, Women’s Fiction, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Macmillan Audio
Listening Length: 15 hrs 2 mins
Narrator: Julia Whelan
Publication Date: February 2, 2021
Source: Local Library (Audiobook Selections)
Title Link: The Four Winds [Amazon]
The Author: Kristin Hannah is the award-winning and bestselling author of more than 20 novels including the international blockbuster, The Nightingale, which was named Goodreads Best Historical fiction novel for 2015 and won the coveted People’s Choice award for best fiction in the same year. It was also named a Best Book of the Year by Amazon, iTunes, Buzzfeed, the Wall Street Journal, Paste, and The Week. In 2018, The Great Alone became an instant New York Times #1 bestseller and was named the Best Historical Novel of the Year by Goodreads.
The Four Winds was published in February of 2021 and immediately hit #1 on the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, USA Today, and Indie bookstore’s bestseller lists. Additionally, it was selected as a book club pick by the both Today Show and The Book Of the Month club.
The Nightingale is currently in production at Tri Star, with Dakota and Elle Fanning set to star. Tri Star has also optioned The Great Alone and it is in development. Firefly Lane, her novel about two best friends, was the #1 Netflix show around the world, in the week it came out. The popular tv show stars Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke and Season Two is currently being filmed.
©2022 V Williams