The Four Winds
Feb 2nd, 2021
St. Martin’s Press
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah will give the famous novel The Grapes of Wrath a run for its money. As with her other books, this one also portrays a woman who overcomes something in her life and turns out stronger in the end. It is a complex, intricate journey where the main protagonist comes into her own, overcoming the large number of obstacles thrown her way.
Hannah noted, “Obviously I read The Grapes of Wrath and loved the story. I would not say it particularly influenced me except to open me up to that era and experience. I looked at the Dust Bowl, the Depression, and the Mid-West migration to California through a woman’s eyes. As with Steinbeck’s story so much of what we know about that era is that women many times were not in the picture. I wanted to show female courage, heroism, and bravery in the face of difficult and dangerous odds.”
Set during the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the mid-west migration to California the book emphasizes the crime of inhumanity to one’s fellow citizen. It shows how nature, literally and figuratively, can be so cruel. Elsa’s story really begins after meeting Rafe. She feels unwanted and unloved by her rich family and decides one night to go on the town in a red dress. Unfortunately, she mistakes his lust for love, becomes pregnant, and is disowned by her family. Rafe’s family takes her in and forces him to marry her. These new parents become the family she never really had. But hard times hit this farming family, and instead of stepping up to the plate, Rafe leaves them.
It is relevant today, with this book quote, “My American dream was turned into a nightmare by poverty and hardship and greed. These past few years have been a time of things lost: Jobs. Homes. Food.” Hannah started this book “four years ago and had no idea that it would turn out as relevant for today. There is this sense of being a time lost. I think there is a very strong correlation to be made now. I think history can teach us something. It’s a good reminder now. After reading a story like this, people can relate to how the human spirit has strength and durability with the power of family. Looking back, it’s important to recall that we have been through hard times before in America and not only survived but thrived. If we pull together and look towards the future, we can thrive again. The message of America is to be brave, have courage without fear, and to be a survivor. I think it has been this way for all of our history.”
Now 1934, her youngest son Anthony has “dust pneumonia,” a then-common ailment of the Great Plains. Because of this, Elsa decides to leave her home in Lonesome Tree Texas and move to the fresh air of California. Ending up in the San Joaquin Valley, Elsa, her daughter, Loreda, and her son, trade one set of terrible circumstances for another. Work is scarce, and the locals are prejudiced against “Okies,” as migrants were known regardless of where they are from. The family settles into a camp riddled with filth on the banks of an irrigation ditch. Eventually they end up in the town of Welty, named after the owner of a large farm. She meets Jack, an idealist union organizer who wants the migrants to unite for better wages and working conditions. Falling in love with him, Elsa becomes the migrants’ spokesperson, understanding that she has a voice of power.
“Comparing Rafe to Jack. After meeting her future husband Rafe it seemed like the worst thing that could happen to Elsa, but it was actually the best thing that happened to her. She became a wife, a mother, and part of a loving family. Her love for Rafe was defined by a lack of love for herself. He was a weak man and a dreamer at a point when the world had no place for someone without the strength to stand up. While Jack, became the great love of Elsa’s life. He showed her the power of passion, both physically and ideologically. He helped her to unlock something within herself. With his unfettered idealism he looked through a lens of what he wanted the world to be and lost focus on how dangerous the real world was. Elsa knew this from the moment she chose to be with Jack.”
This novel will tear at the reader’s heart strings. Whether the scenes during the Dust Bowl, the struggle to survive the Depression, or the challenges the migrant workers faced, people will take a journey with this compelling family. The story is about motherhood, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit. Once again Hannah has hit a home run.