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The Four Winds


The Four Winds

If my Twitter feed is any indication, THE FOUR WINDS is one of the most highly anticipated books of 2021, which is not surprising. Kristin Hannah is a book club favorite, and THE NIGHTINGALE, her 2015 work set during World War II, was a massive hit. Now, she chronicles the Dust Bowl years, giving eager readers a novel that is both sweeping in scope and deeply personal in its portrayal of one woman’s journey through adversity.

When we meet Elsa Wolcott, it’s 1921 and she’s about to turn 25. In her small Texas town, that milestone might as well be a death sentence. If a woman hasn’t found a husband by then, it's probably not going to happen. Elsa, who had a heart condition from childhood and has been constantly reminded by her mother of her unattractiveness her entire life, loves books and reading. She would have preferred the opportunity to go to college instead of staying at home, a constant disappointment to her parents and herself. But that doesn’t mean she no longer wants to be noticed. So when a handsome younger man, Rafe, the son of Italian immigrants, takes notice of her, she’s easily swept off her feet and the two become clandestine lovers.

"Even if you think you have a good understanding of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl from your history classes, you are bound to learn something new about this period from THE FOUR WINDS."

When Elsa learns she’s pregnant, she’s immediately disowned by her parents and only grudgingly accepted by Rafe’s family, who see Elsa and her child as an impediment to their dreams of a college education for their son. But Elsa is a hard worker and a devoted mother, and she soon wins over Rafe’s parents, who become dearer to her than her own. But 13 years on, as the country is mired in the Great Depression and the Martinellis’ farm --- along with all of their neighbors' farms --- is mired in endless drought, Elsa is also coping with an increasingly strained relationship with her daughter Loreda, now a teenager.

Like her father, Loreda is a dreamer, and as their economic situation gets more dire, Rafe fills his daughter’s head with fantasies about a better and easier life elsewhere. Elsa, by comparison, is a dull failure in her daughter’s eyes. When circumstances change, and Elsa and Loreda --- along with Elsa’s younger son, Anthony --- are forced to rely on one another to start a new life, their relationship will be tested like never before.

Even if you think you have a good understanding of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl from your history classes, you are bound to learn something new about this period from THE FOUR WINDS. Hannah explains in an author’s note how she combined fiction and fact in a way that is both loyal to her subject and true to her story. She vividly illustrates just how desperate the situation grew for migrants forced to leave their family farms in the hopes of survival, and how those with power constructed systems that set the migrant families up for failure. The Martinellis’ story resonates with the plight of present-day migrants and refugees, and will give readers plenty of opportunity to reflect on current policies and politics around these issues.

Beyond these big concerns, THE FOUR WINDS is also powerful on a much more intimate level, as the bittersweet story of a woman who has spent her whole life being invisible but finally finds her voice when it matters most.

Reviewed by Norah Piehl on February 5, 2021

The Four Winds
by Kristin Hannah

  • Publication Date: March 14, 2023
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Griffin
  • ISBN-10: 1250178614
  • ISBN-13: 9781250178619