Release Date: 9th February 2021
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Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.
In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. 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.
First of all, I want to thank the people who said this book, which is set during the Great Depression, is depressing. I had a right laugh at that and it really cheered me up. Also, I should probably add that all Kristin Hannah’s books are really quite miserable overall, especially their endings, so I wouldn’t recommend them to anyone who is looking for something a bit more joyful or hopeful. That’s not what Hanah does.
Anyway, as for my own thoughts on this book. I particularly want to talk about the setting, because it’s not something I knew a lot about prior to reading this book. I had heard of the Great Depression and the stock market crash, but I didn’t know how it all related, or what was happening in the American South, in the Dust Bowl, at the time. I didn’t know the government encouraged its people to go to California to provide cheap labour and then punished them for it. So I learnt a lot, and I’ve since realised that this is something I would like to read more about because it’s not a part of history that we learn about here in the UK.
I enjoyed how atmospheric The Four Winds was, particularly the parts that were set in Texas. The dust storms sounded atrocious, and I was getting quite uncomfortable reading about them. Of course, the whole book isn’t set in Texas, and the characters make their way over to California, which is an entirely different setting. This part was atmospheric, but in a different way. I once again felt quite uncomfortable reading about how the characters were living in cramped and unhygenic conditions, and how they were constantly being judged and bullied and scrutinised.
The main character, Elsa, and her children are living in poverty for a good portion of the novel. Thankfully, I haven’t experienced anything quite so extreme and we always had a house to live in, but I did grow up in poverty myself and the parts about benefits (or “relief”) being cut and the characters having to try to find work in an employment desert really hit home with me.
I don’t think these characters were Kristin Hannah’s strongest, in fact I find them all a bit forgettable. However, I think the setting and the topics were very memorable, and they helped to keep the characters fresh in my mind.
I really enjoy how Kristin Hannah, at least in her last three books, is writing stories about women surviving and fighting. Her focus on female relationships, whether they’re sisters, best friends, or mothers and daughters, is my favourite part of her novels. The characters are always in such difficult situations but their bonds always shine through, as do their own strengths when they’re separated.
I really enjoyed The Four Winds, and while I don’t think it’s my favourite Kristin Hannah book (I’m actually having trouble deciding what is), it’s still a strong one and I appreciate both the female relationships and how this introduced me to a period of US history that I knew next to nothing about.