She will discover the best of herself in the worst of times . . .
Texas, 1934. Elsa Martinelli had finally found the life she’d yearned for. A family, a home and a livelihood on a farm on the Great Plains. But when drought threatens all she and her community hold dear, Elsa’s world is shattered to the winds.
Fearful of the future, when Elsa wakes to find her husband has fled, she is forced to make the most agonizing decision of her life. Fight for the land she loves or take her beloved children, Loreda and Ant, west to California in search of a better life. Will it be the land of milk and honey? Or will their experience challenge every ounce of strength they possess?
Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds is one of my highly anticipated releases for 2021. I absolutely adored her previous novel, The Great Alone, and have been holding out for this new one for months now.
The Four Winds is impeccable — a sweeping, masterful historical fiction feat. It’s emotional and moving, inspiring and just absolutely heartbreaking at times. This is the perfect adult novel, I can’t fault it.
The novel brings to fruition the early 1930s Great Depression and Dust Bowl migration, laying bare the challenges and struggles that American families faced trying to feed their children. Many husbands fled their responsibilities, leaving young women to care for children alone. It was a time of great suffering and prejudice.
“The next morning, Elsa woke well before dawn and found Rafe’s side of the bed empty. He’d slept in the barn again. Lately he preferred it to being with her. With a sigh, she got dressed and left her room.”
Set in Texas, when Elsa and Rafe sleep together outside of wedlock and Elsa falls pregnant, they’re forced to get married. Rafe’s plans to go to college are pulverised, and Elsa is abandoned by her parents — her disgrace has hurt them beyond repair. Elsa and Rafe move in with Rafe’s parents and years pass. Another child is born.
The drought has considerable affect on the family’s farm. Everyone works all day to keep the family afloat, but it’s impossible without any rain. And then one morning, Rafe abandons them and Elsa is forced to make unbelievable sacrifices to keep her children alive.
The Four Winds explores a mother’s sacrifice and determination to provide for her children, but it also explores love and family, friendship and loyalty. In the end, Rafe’s parents end up being more of a family for Elsa than her cold, harsh parents ever were.
“She saw how red his cheeks were from the cold, saw the plumes of his breath and the weight loss that had sunken his face and eyes. For a man who had two religions — God and the land — he was dying a little each day, disappointed by them both.”
Written in third person, Kristin Hannah has crafted emotionally rich characters, people you want to cheer for and people who make you keep turning the pages because you’re desperate to discover more about them. Her books are set in some of the worst conditions, and they show us how resilient and determined people can be when they have something to live for — to fight for.
An underlying theme in the book is that of dreams — wanting a better life. When the harsh and unrelenting Dust Bowl hits, many nearby farmers abandon their homes and travel West in search of a better life. But conditions there aren’t necessarily any better, and people are judged and ostracised for where they’ve come from. There’s little work, even smaller wages to be earned, and the conditions in which they must live are inhumane. And still, Elsa perseveres.
“Another scorcher of a day, and not even ten in the morning. So far, September had offered no respite from the heat. Elsa knelt on the linoleum kitchen floor, scrubbing hard. She had already been up for hours. It was best to do chores in the relative cool of dawn and dusk.”
Gritty and beautiful, highly recommended. I couldn’t fault this even if I tried.
Thank you to the publisher for sending me a review copy in exchange for an honest review.
The Four Winds
Pan Macmillan Publishers