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February 25, 2021

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah ~ a Review

by Donna Huber

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is my first novel by this author. She brought the historical period of the dustbowl and depression to life with a story of one woman's fight for survival.

Amazon affiliate links are used on this site. A free book was provided for an honest review.

The Four Winds
February 2021; St. Martin's; 978-1250178602
audio, ebook, print (464 pages); historical fiction
I almost did not request this book for review. In high school, I read and absolutely loved The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I wasn't sure if there could be another story about this time period. However, everyone in a reviewers group that I'm a part of kept talking about it. I finally gave in to FOMO (fear of missing out), particularly knowing how much Hannah's previous novels were so talked about.

If you have read The Grapes of Wrath, you will notice thematically The Four Winds is very similar. Some of the individual scenes will also feel familiar - you can't get around describing severe drought, dying livestock, driving through the desert, trying to find work in California, etc. However, there are some differences.

First off, the story is about a woman. The story actually begins in the 1920s before skipping ahead to the Dustbowl of the 1930s. While there is a multi-generational family, the whole family does not leave the farm. I also think there is much more time spent experiencing the dustbowl than I remember from The Grapes of Wrath. The drive across the desert isn't as emotional in The Four Winds

The women, and children as Elsa has two, experienced the time period a little differently than men. While men felt like failures because they couldn't provide for their families. I think the Depression and then the Dustbowl, hit men's pride. Whereas for women, they struggled to provide for their families, but in a different way. They were the ones that had to figure out how to keep feeding their children. WHle men took care of the fields and "cash crop" of the farm. It was often the women and children who tended the vegetable plot and livestock that kept the family fed. And beyond the physical needs of food, clothes, and shelter, women were often responsible for the family's morale - how do you keep spirits positive when the children's outgrown shoes have holes and stomaches are sunken with hunger?

Elsa was at the same the least likely character to succeed and most likely to succeed during these extremely hard times. She was born into wealth. However, she wasn't the beauty her sister was and she suffered an illness as a child that left her with a weak heart. She was destined to be a spinster. It would have been a pampered life, but it would have a lonely and mostly loveless life. Tired of the life her parents were pushing her into and wanting to experience some small semblance of the life everyone else seemed entitled to, she meets and falls in love with the son of Italian immigrants. When she finds herself pregnant her father drives her to the family's farm and leaves her there - he disowns Elsa. She doesn't know how to cook or clean and her sewing skills are more decorative than useful. Yet she is determined to embrace this new life. This same determination is what will help her family survive the worst environmental and economic crises of modern times.

For those who have read Hannah's previous novels, you will not be disappointed. The writing is rich with details. The characters are people you want to root for. I thought the beginning was a little slow, but it allows the reader time to get to know the characters and become fully invested in the family. 

The scenes in California are heartbreaking and another example of injustice. Yet, there are bright spots - people who have nothing but willing to share what little they do have with someone who has even less, people who remember that at one time they were hard of their luck and willing to help out a fellow American who is now experiencing their own hard times. I think what really stood out to me was how churches where judgemental - the "Okies" (anyone coming from the Dustbowl even if they weren't from Oklahoma) were not even allowed in the churches for Christmas services.

Beyond the historical issues being played out, The Four Winds provided thought-provoking moments that are just as applicable today. I was particularly aware of how so much was politicized. The people trying to organize the workers are clearly labeled Communist. I would have liked to have known more about Natalia (if you listen to the audiobook she definitely has a foreign accent). Reading this with a buddy or a book club would allow for some great conversations.

I'm glad that I read this book and will definitely have to try to read more of Kristin Hannah's books.

Buy The Four Winds at Amazon

Donna Huber is an avid reader and natural encourager. She is the founder of Girl Who Reads and the author of how-to marketing book Secrets to a Successful Blog Tour.

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  1. I have this on my shelves and as someone who loved The Great Alone and The Nightingale (highly recommend them), I am really looking forward to reading this one.