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.
Disclaimer: I received this book for review from NetGalley. Read below for my spoiler-free review.
Kristin Hannah is well-known within the realm of literary fiction for her tales of love and loss. Her newest historical fiction, The Four Winds, is the first I’ve read from her, and her reputation for gripping and heartbreaking stories held true…for the most part.
I will start by saying that although I am not predisposed towards the Dustbowl/Great Depression era (or much of American history in the early 20th century), I did end up appreciating the insight as to how life would have treated someone during this time. Similar to pandemic circumstances, there was the constant loom of uncertainty and fear as people struggled to feed their families. For that reason, I think this book is a particularly timely release that may shine some hope upon dark times.
To me, the most interesting part of the story was seeing how those who had lost everything to the environmental ruin of the Dust Bowl reacted to the apathy and greed of wealthy Americans. Their struggle for survival was fascinating to read about, especially since the events are historically based. This story would have been a great supplement to learning about this era from a textbook, and Hannah clearly did her research.
Unfortunately, a large chunk of the story is focused solely on the childhood/early adulthood of our protagonist, Elsa. Hannah’s goal was clearly to show a strong arc of her character development, but I could not stand her for half of the book. I understand that how she was treated bred trauma that she couldn’t shake, but I was too frustrated to sympathize. That, combined with the repetition and slow pace of the first half of the book, made it a chore trudging through.
That being said, I do think the ending was good enough to make the slower parts of the book feel rewarding. I do realize that there needed to be buildup to reach the conclusion that The Four Winds came to. The last fifth of the book was fast-paced and absolutely heartbreaking, which is why I am bumping my initial review of 3 stars up to 3.5.
Another thing I really appreciated was that the relationships focused on motherhood and the bond between siblings (with a tiny amount of romance in between). The love that I could feel through the pages made me want to call my own mom and remind her of how much she means to me. I think that Hannah’s ability to convey strong emotion speaks volumes to her skill as a writer.
TLDR; starts out slow, ending is worth it, you’ll probably learn something, you’ll definitely cry.