While I haven’t read all of Kristin Hannah’s books, The Four Winds surely has to be one of her best. This timely and timeless classic deserves all the attention and praise it’s received since publication in early 2021. Did she know how relevant her new novel would be or just how close to home it would hit in our post-pandemic times? Get the tissues ready, y’all! You’re going to need them for this book.
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The Four Winds: Synopsis
Ugly, unloved, and unwell: the three words Elsa would use to describe herself if anyone ever bothered to ask. Luckily, the characters in her beloved books aren’t judgmental about the company they keep. For the longest time, she’s longed to feel wanted, as though she belongs. She’s waited years for her parents to see something, anything, to love about her. So, it’s no surprise when she succumbs to temptation with the first boy who notices her. What does he see that they don’t?
Next thing she knows, she’s being dumped on the front porch of the Martinelli family who she doesn’t know. But what her family sees as her “shame”, Else sees as hope. She will love and be loved like never before. And as the Martinelli family embrace her as one of their own, a whole new world opens up for her. For once, she learned what it’s like to have a loving family, a home where she belongs, and a sense of pride. She works hard for her new family and their farm, toiling daily without complaint.
But times have gotten tough. The Great Depression has bankrupted farmers, bankers, and communities alike. The land is dry. The rain is gone. The winds blow clouds of dust across the arid land, caking everyone and everything in layers of soil that once promised prosperity. And just when she thinks times can’t get tougher, she finds herself at the edge of a cliff alone, abandoned, and angry. The land she loved has forsaken her and threatened the lives of her children. The Dust Bowl is no longer welcoming. She has no choice but to head West.
But California isn’t the answer she expected it to be. If anything, she finds more problems than she bargained for. At least in Texas, she had respect. Now, as an “Okie” she and her family are shunned, forced to live in ditches alongside the very roads they walk daily in search of work and food. Nevertheless, she persists. But it’s hard to stay positive when everywhere you turn you see suffering, blight, and banishment.
As time passes, she and the other migrants find themselves losing hope. They came West in search of a better life. But the rich farmers and corrupt local governments are making it nearly impossible to feed their families. That’s when the mysterious man with the bullhorn shouting about fair wages catches not only Elsa’s attention but that of her young daughter, too. Over time, he helps Elsa find herself and her voice. It’s only then that the greatest love of her life finally recognizes her bravery and worth.
And just as she hoped it would all those years ago, her love will live on in eternity. The four winds will continue to blow. Bad girls will still dance and drink gin. Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.
The Four Winds: Musings
Fact: Kristin Hannah is one of the greatest storytellers of our generation. Her ability to weave a tale rich in emotion, steeped with despair and hope, is unsurpassed in my book. Her way with words captivates like no other. She’s a master at wrapping you in a blanket of emotions, enveloping you in the pain, fear, and love the characters are experiencing throughout her stories.
At the core of The Four Winds is a tale as old as time. Mother and daughter relationships are complicated. And Elsa and Loreda’s story is full of struggles, that’s for sure. Learning to relate to each other, to grow together while growing apart, is the push/pull of their story. I was instantly transported back in time to my teen years when my mother knew best but I knew most.
The final passages of the novel are by far the most moving and felt like a window into my own heart. My mother, who I spoke of in my post about The Once & Future Witches, is my rock. But there were times when I didn’t understand her or how I felt about her. And, like Loreda, it wasn’t until I could recognize her courage that I truly saw her strength.
But the lessons my mother taught me throughout the years haven’t been easily learned. I completely related to Loreda, more so at times than Elsa. Having grown up in poverty most of my life, I understand what it’s like to look at my parents wondering why they didn’t want more. The truth I later learned is that they did, but life doesn’t always give you what you want.
Beyond the personal, this book tells the story of hardworking Americans suffering for a little piece of the American dream. And while it’s not The Great Depression, the current economic climate isn’t unlike that which Hannah wrote about in The Four Winds. Living in Los Angeles I see blight on every corner, and the pandemic has only exacerbated the poverty and homelessness in our communities.
The Four Winds: Rating
It’s not often that a historical fiction novel feels as relevant and timeless as this. I couldn’t help but draw comparisons to our modern times and wonder if Hannah knew what she was creating. Truly, The Four Winds is a work of genius, and I can’t wait to read more of her work. If you’re a fan of emotional books that draw you in and envelope you with a masterful story, then do not miss this book!
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