By Kristin Hannah

My rating: 5 stars

Goodreads Rating: 4.32

Genre: Historical Fiction

Format Read: Hardcover

Goodreads summary: From the number-one bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone comes a powerful American epic about love and heroism and hope, set during the Great Depression: a time when the country was in crisis, when millions were out of work and even the land seemed to have turned against them.

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 Wolcott, 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 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 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. 

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The Four Winds is the story of Elsa and her daughter, Loreda, as they navigate growing up in the Dust Bowl during the Great Depression. The two women are forced to carry the weight of the family on their shoulders, and make hard choices that, if calculated incorrectly, could result in them and their families starving to dead. Hannah, as per usual, told this story in a way that has left me deeply attached to the characters.

Elsa is born rich, but she doesn’t have it all. Her family scorns her because she is too tall, and not pretty enough. As a fellow 6 foot tall woman, I can relate to the problem of being taller than all of the potential men to date. Unfortunately, Elsa is also ugly according to her family, and thus isn’t allowed to ever hang out with her sisters, nor get married in high society. Elsa reads to escape, and dreams of one day going to college and starting a family of her own. She achieves half of that when she meets Rafe Martinelli, an Italian (the scandal) farmer. Elsa falls pregnant, and ends up being forced to marry him, disowned by her own family for her indiscretion.

At this point, the novel jumps forward, and we’re in the dust bowl. Elsa, Rafe, his parents Rose and Tony, and their two children Loreda and Ant, attempt to survive through horrible winds, depression, and family turmoil. Eventually, they make the decision to go to California in order to escape the dust once and for all, but what meets them there is unfriendly locals and even more hunger and depression.

What made this story so great was the dueling personalities of the two main characters, Loreda and Elsa. Elsa is a strong woman who puts her head down and does what she is told, broken by the hard times and desperate to keep food on the table for her children. Loreda is a headstrong teenager who wants more for herself than what she has been given, and is determined to fight for it. Both of these characters feel real, and as their fight I find myself alternating who I support constantly. I agree with Elsa and the need to protect her children and ensure that they don’t do anything stupid. I also agree with Loreda that sometimes anger is good, and they have to stand up to fight or nothing will get better. There’s an emotional resonance here that is 100% to do with the bond between mother and daughter. It pulls the story onward, creating an internal character driven conflict that seems so small in comparison to the struggles they are facing in the real world, but also bigger than anything the outside world could throw at them.

In terms of pacing, the beginning of the book is slightly slow and then it picks up and never looks back. Hannah took her time setting up the time period and who each of the characters were so that we would be able to follow them throughout the story. There’s a huge time hop ~100 pages in, where we go from Elsa falling pregnant to Loreda (the baby) being 13 years old. As readers, it’s easy to fill in the gaps of the 13 years we missed out on, because each detail is slowly filled in by the interactions between characters. We know how Elsa’s marriage is by the way she interacts with her husband. We know who her parents are by the way they treat her each day.

I cannot talk enough about how much I enjoyed this book. It may have taken me a bit to actually getting around to reading it- I carried it in my backpack for a month before opening the first page- but once I started I couldn’t put it down. Kristin Hannah proved once again that she is an author capable of writing classic after classic.