Book Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds…

About the Book:

The Four Winds is a deeply moving, powerful story about the strength and resilience of women and the bond between mother and daughter, by the multi-million copy number one bestselling author Kristin Hannah.

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?

From the overriding love of a mother for her child, the value of female friendship, and the ability to love again – against all odds, Elsa’s incredible journey is a story of survival, hope and what we do for the ones we love.


My Thoughts:

The Four Winds is very much a novel of social and political American history. It covers that period in the 20th century known as ‘The Great Depression’, but it focuses in on the environmental disaster that coincided with the economic depression and the huge shift of migration from the agricultural interior to the west coast. I studied a unit back at university (way, way, back) on the social and cultural geography of North America. We touched on all regions as an overview and then needed to select two for our specific analysis. I didn’t actually pick the region that contained the areas in this novel known as ‘The Dust Bowl’, but I was introduced to the history in a brief way during the overview. Even with knowing that this combined economic and environmental disaster had occurred, I honestly had no appreciation of the gravity of it.

This novel is entirely depressing. I’m not going to lie. It’s grim. And it should be, because it’s about a prolonged national disaster of epic proportions. The stock market crash in America at the end of the 1920s which led into the economic depression of the early 1930s, which then coincided with a drought throughout the wheat belt (middle America). Not just any drought, a prolonged, years and years long drought that resulted in an environmental disaster never before seen. Over farming led to the land being stripped and changed as prolonged dry conditions caused seismic shifts in the landscape and wind picking up layers of top soil in unending dust storms that occurred with alarming frequency. This led to a life-threatening wide-spread illness called dust pneumonia, where if it didn’t kill you, it would certainly leave you with severely compromised lungs. People couldn’t work their land, livestock filled with dirt and dropped dead, people started getting sick from all the dust inhalation, banks began to foreclose on mortgages, people started driving or walking to California in search of a better life, work, clean air, a fresh start. Except that there was about a million of them, all in search of the same thing, and they ended up becoming unwanted migrants in their own country, forced to live in squalor in camps, begging for work, starving, diseased, ostracised, and when they did find work, it was at the mercy of big business farmers who capitalised on the fact that they could treat their workers any which way they wanted because there were so many more people just waiting on the road for a vacancy to crop up. Are you depressed yet? I know, what a horrendously grim time, and far more extensively catastrophic than I ever realised. In terms of the history of America’s ‘Great Depression’, turns out I knew far less than I thought I did.

Kristin Hannah weaves all of this history into a novel with perfect ease. She focuses in on one farming family and pretty much sets them on the journey that so many Americans took back then. It’s fraught with danger and disaster but I found her handling of it very grounding. She doesn’t give into melodrama or outlandish plot diversions. In many ways, this novel is more literary than her other works of fiction, a social and political study of this period within America, using two female characters from the one family as the device for communicating true events. I liked the all-encompassing scope of the novel, the whole this happened which led to this which then led to this, and so and so on. The story even explores, in its later sections, the push for unionisation of the picking workers who were being abused by big business farmers. People, who were in such desperate and dire situations, being forced to work for an amount that was far below the cost of even the most basic standard of living and being charged for the tools to do it. I like novels that dig into social and political history and this one certainly dug deep.

My only ‘issue’ with this novel was in the characterisation, specifically, Loreda, the daughter of the story. Kristin Hannah tends to write her teenage daughters as real horror heads, truly nasty little pieces of work, particularly when it comes to their mothers. Loreda was a bit much at times, particularly in the first half of the book where her nastiness was rather repetitive as well as tiresome and unnecessary in terms of telling a good story. This was the only time that the story gave into melodrama and cliché characterisation. Loreda was an entitled brat, brutally judgemental when it came to her selfless and hardworking mother, blinded by her adoration of her useless father. At one point, she even blames her mother for the drought. Her bad behaviour was intentional, often putting others at risk and herself in danger, yet, like so many of these sorts of characters, she manages to never run into trouble, get hurt, or have any consequence whatsoever. Everything bad happens to everyone else, including her own mother and brother, but never her. This type of character is a pet hate of mine, so it’s likely I detested her far more than other readers, but this girl really bothered me to the point where I just started to wish that something bad would happen to her so she’d learn her lesson.

Fans of Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale might just feel like she has reached those heights once again with The Four Winds. Casting my minor issues with the one character aside, this novel really is an excellent read – expansive, grounded in history, and deeply moving. It’s predominantly doom and gloom and the hopeful ending is rather bittersweet, but I think it manages to get away with this because of how insightful and impactful the narrative is all the way through. Readers new to Kristin Hannah and long-term fans will all be more than satisfied with this terrific new release. I anticipate seeing this one on the bestseller lists for most of this year.

☕☕☕☕


About the Author:

Kristin Hannah is a New York Times bestselling author. She is a former lawyer turned writer and is the mother of one son. She and her husband live in the Pacific Northwest near Seattle, and Hawaii. Her first novel published in the UK, Night Road, was one of eight books selected for the UK’s 2011 TV Book Club Summer Read, and her novel The Nightingale was a New York Times number one bestseller, selling almost three million copies worldwide.


The Four Winds
Published by Pan Macmillan Australia
Released 27th January 2021

12 thoughts on “Book Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

    • It’s a terrific piece of historical fiction. And I certainly haven’t read much on this topic so it was interesting to me from the outset. She is a very good writer, I think I’m leaning towards liking her historical fiction more than her contemporary though.

      Liked by 1 person

  1. I can’t believe anyone could compare Four Winds with the Nightingale, the latter being one of the best books I ever read. I appreciate the educational aspect of Four Winds as I didn’t know what happened with the farmers at that time, but I can’t say I enjoyed the book and all of it’s misery. My friend who loaned it to me, as I couldn’t wait to read it, didn’t care for it either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I meant more in terms of scope and depth as a work of historical fiction rather than a direct comparison of story with The Nightingale. I personally loved the Nightingale more than this one too, but it’s not until this release that I feel she has written something on that level again.
      Thanks for stopping by, always interested to hear what people think on a book – good and bad!

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  2. Your review insightfully captures this depressing but important book about the Dust Bowl and Depression. An eyeopener for me, an educated (M.A. degree), 80 year old woman who knew nothing about this era except that there was a drought (what a mild word for what Americans endured!). I disagree with your take on Loreda as being an over-characterized, angry teenager. I thought Kristin Hannah paints her perfectly; idealizing one parent, trashing the other. Isn’t that a lot of what teen life is about? Hannah’s resolution in Loreda is beautifully done – weaving Loreda’s guilt with her age appropriate rage. I was relieved (and maybe a bit dismayed) that Loreda didn’t get raped along the way, allowing us (and her) to keep on going (and growing) without being stopped short by a trauma that would make her struggle to survive that disastrous era, totally unbearable (and probably do her in altogether).
    My only criticism of the book is that the characters’ quotes in the first part (until the Dust hits) sounded artificial. Hannah has Loreda and Ant saying things that are jarringly too grown up and artificial sounding. But that stops as soon as the action really begins.
    Monica

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your thoughts, I appreciate the time you’ve taken to comment in-depth. I think my impressions of Loreda may have been coloured by having read Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah not all that long before this one. In that one too, there is a similar teenager, although possibly worse in terms of the nastiness to her mother. It might have just been too much, a case of, not this again! I definitely didn’t appreciate her as much as you did but I am taken with your thoughts here on her. You’ve given me something to think about.

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