Book Review

The Four Winds

The Four Winds

  • Author: Kristin Hannah
  • Genre: Historical Fiction
  • Publication Date: February 2, 2021
  • Publisher: St. Martin’s Press

CONTENT WARNING: death of an animal, violence, prejudice, death, death of a parent

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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 Walcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage was a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Race Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruins, 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 the 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 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 aunt recommended this book to me, and it was one of those books that I couldn’t put down. I read this entire book in two sittings, and was incredibly impressed with not just the quality of the writing, but the immersive nature of the story itself.

We’re introduced to Elsa – a young, unattractive woman who is well on her way to being a spinster, unliked by her family and basically everyone else around her. There isn’t necessarily anything special about her, which isn’t the norm in books – usually the MC is beautiful, strong, brilliant, and has exceptional social skills … or at least some combination of the above characteristics. But Elsa? All she really wanted was for someone, anyone to love her:

“She knew now what she hadn’t known before, hadn’t even suspected: she would do anything, suffer anything, to be loved, even if it was just for a night.”

But there’s something about Elsa that I loved. I could tell that she was tough, underneath that meek demeanor. And when her life started to change, her inner strength started to show through. As things got harder, she became a rock for everyone around her. Luckily, for the most part, the people around her were really good people. But most importantly, she was a great power of example, pushing through the most unimaginably hard circumstances for her children. And they turned out amazing:

“The sight of them helping others when they themselves had lost everything made her proud. After all they’d suffered—the hardship, the loss, the disappointment—there they were, smiling, and handing out food. Helping people. It gave her hope for the future.”

While I learned about the Great Depression and the dust bowl in school, this book made those long ago days seem so realistic and present. I was constantly on edge, with a sense of constantly impending doom, waiting for the next shoe to drop. And no matter how bad things got, it always seemed to get worse. But Elsa never lost hope—and that’s what seemed to be most important. I was outraged to see how quickly people turned on one another. The people who had the least to give were the most generous to others in even worse positions. And my heart broke to see how they were viewed by others: as almost less than human, carriers of disease, lazy, shiftless, and just waiting around with their hands out, when they were just trying to scrape by on an honest days labor for well under a living wage. 

“She wanted to stand for something and tell the world she was better than this, that America should be better than letting her live this way.”

It’s clear to see how much the events from this era changed the economy and eventually led to labor reforms. We benefit today from the struggles this generation faced. But a story like this one really brings them to life. And the writing is absolutely gorgeous — it’s simple yet evocative, and I was quickly caught up in this vicious cycle that the characters were stuck in. This is a story that will stick with me long after I’ve finished reading.

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