"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"--
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Not since The Grapes of Wrath have I been so realistically immersed in such a time of hardships as the Great Depression and droughts of the Dust Bowl areas of the 1930’s. Told from a woman’s point of view, I found Elsa Wolcott’s story inspirational.
The trials of
The introduction focuses on the loneliness of Elsa within her family, the role they’ve colluded to keep her in, unwittingly or not, leaving Elsa stunted by their unyielding perception of her.
Her one moment of fight for freedom, the making of a dress in rose silk, leads to something else. A small but devastatingly painful vignette. I must admit when I saw the silk dress reemerge in a different guise I was shocked. Nothing said stay in your alloted place as did that symbolic moment. Elsa was not allowed to be more. When she was shown attention, of course she gravitated towards it. She was thirsty. This in turn leads to being cast out from her family into a new one.
Set in Texas, Elsa now a Martinelli cleaves to her new family. Their joys are hers and when the continuous drought tuns the Texas panhandle into a dust bowl, she fights on.
Elsa’s story gives insights into the spirit of many of the women of the time despite the meanness of comfortable fearful and their lip service to Christian charity. Others are supportive, and nowhere more so than the women in the shanty camps of California
The dust bowl descriptions of the destructive dirt winds are harrowing. A manmade climate crisis that continues to haunt the past and mirror the future. Turning cows milk brown is just one. The threat of dust pneumonia another. Birds falling from the sky, animals and people painfully depleted.
When Elsa and her children leave for the promise of a golden Californian future, the bad had turned to worse.
Fear and greed is the Californian face. Elsa and her family make friends, meet with ridicule and hatred and become employment fodder for merciless cotton kings. Chewed up and spat out.
The influx of peoples referred to as the Okies was mammoth. Desperation and competition vied as government assistance was withdrawn. Any jobs the people did get were poorly paid and then wages were slashed for profit. The shameful practice of having pickers being economically beholden to the company, where the company charges rent and pays in chits that can only be redeemed in the company store, was rife. Families could never get out from under their debt. Children joined the picker lines. This was enforced labor. The Okies were economical slave labor. The choices were live or die.
Elsa is a warrior. Her trials in Texas were almost unbearable, and yet the California experience trumps even that. She is a woman with a fierce heart when it counts. Her meeting with a communist labor agitator is another turning point.
I was glued to every word. I was equally elated, appalled and devastated,
Hannah is a strong voice speaking into the past and the present. Four Winds has all the earmarks of a classic bringing alive those times for today’s readers, jogging us into reflection and introspection. One can’t help but see parallels between the then and now.
Her author’s note is a fitting finale.
A St. Martin's Press ARC via NetGalley
(Opinions expressed in this review are completely my own.)
Depression, drought, dust. Workers' rights, fair pay, American migrant rights.
I can't say enough about this book. What a time period to set this in. It is so relevant considering all that Covid-19 has thrown at us. About the only thing missing
I haven't read much about this time period or this part of the country to understand these people's hardships and heartbreaks. Mind you; this book takes place over about only two years.
If you like historical fiction this is going to be a must-read for you.
I haven't read many books by Ms.Hannah, but I certainly will be doing so now!
*ARC supplied by the publisher and the author. Thank-you.
Elsa, born to wealthy parents, becomes ill as a child and thus, becomes her lot in life; frail, unattractive spinster. Elsa is ignored with only books to fill her days. She meets an attractive stranger and her life is forever changed. The Martinelli family becomes the family she always wanted. Elsa will do anything for her family to survive, even head west with Her children, to find work. Her journey is that of the migrant worker doing anything to feed their family. Friendships are formed even in this time of darkness, and love survives. Elsa’s love, devotion, determination, and strength will be visible to all, except Elsa herself.
This book is written beautifully, the characters are wonderful, giving us total insight to their plight and despair, while making them relatable with normal every day issues. Let me honest, this is not a light read. It’s dark, sad, and, at times, it will rip your heart out! But, it’s an important story that I’m sure many do not know all that well, and is all too relevant. Warning....ugly cry ahead!
Many thanks to Ms. Hannah, St. Martin’s Press and NeGalley for this ARC. Opinion is mine alone.
As their lives become harder, Elsa’s husband leaves for California in
What awaits them in California is not what they had hoped for and their time spent there is one that takes true courage and strength to endure. Even with all the adversity, it is in California that Elsa finds her true self and realizes she is much more valuable than her past had led her to believe.
Readers who love interesting characters, stories of adversity and accurate historical fiction will enjoy this novel.
I received an advanced release copy and am happy to give my honest review.
The story takes place in the 1930s during the Dust Bowl Era. Elsa and
A terrific idea by the author to feature this time period in her book. You can actually see quite a few parallels between the story and things going on in this country and around the world in recent years.
Elsa is a character worth knowing and I highly recommend this one if you are a fan of historical fiction novels.
Thank you to Netgalley and the publisher for providing me with an advance digital copy! All thoughts expressed are my honest opinion.
Book starts out with a listing of the author's other works, dedication and prologue where we learn about the penny that has hope for one's new life in US.
1921 and we start out in TX and Elsa has been raised to be very poor in health so the parents keep her safe at
Her sisters are beautiful and are married and out in the world. Elsa wants to be more like them so she does a few things to her hair and dress and spends the night at a speakeasy where she meets a boy.
She meets him more over time and before you know it she's with child. What I hated to read was that her father dropped her off at the boys house for them to take care of the daughter and child.
She was from a very well to do banker family and knows nothing of preparing meals and doing chores. She is thankful to learn how to do everything.
Rafe is tired of TX life and the droughts cause him to just up and leave to head to CA. They don't hear from him and the youngest boy needs to be relocated for his health so she packs up the kids and heads west also, leaving the grandparents behind.
Terrifying hearing of the nights spent on the road and passing through the desert. When they reach CA things are not what they expected and Elsa is NOT afraid to work. She meets a wonderful woman in camp who gives her information about how to survive.
She did scrub a woman's house from top to bottom til 6pm one day and got 40 cents. She puts the kids in school and while searching for work she tries to also find Rafe.
Fell in love with this side of CA during the depression reading about it from John Steinbecks stories so to me this is an added plus to continue on with the story coming from a different irrespective.
Hard times hits them front and center and just when you think they are getting ahead you realize they are not. They realize it also and the daughter goes to do something about it.
So many emotions and I love hearing of the travels and the places they went through on their way to follow their dreams.
Tragic times and love hearing about how they survived through it all. Love hearing of the strikes during the time as the land owners were in control and could set the price of a picker for the day...
Never saw the ending happening as it did but was so glad Ledora gets to bring it all full circle and move on with her life as she gets older.
Received this review copy from St. Martin's Press via publicist via NetGalley and this is my honest opinion.
When life once again takes a terrible
Elsa is one tough lady. She struggles to feed her family, to show love, and to just plain survive. She does what it takes. Sometimes it was even too much for me to handle. I would have to set the book aside for a minute and just breathe. My heart goes out to the people who lived during this time period.
Well! I think I have already read the best of the year for me! It is going to be tough to beat this one! What a wild ride this book is. Every emotion you could have…it is experienced within this story. I cannot imagine going through what these people went through.
Do not miss this one! Best of the best! It gives you all the feels!
I received this novel from the publisher for a honest review.
Kristin Hannah has written a remarkable novel covering the decade and a half between 1921 and 1936. These years were a time of economic, climate, and agricultural turmoil leading to tragedy in America. The war years had finally
Elsinore lived in a home without love. Her sisters were married, but she was confined to the home. at age 25, considered a spinster since she was unmarried and unmarriageable because she had contracted Rheumatic Fever when she was 14 and was told she would be ill for the rest of her life. She was told she had a weakened heart. She was repeatedly told that she was unattractive and would never marry. Her confidence waned, and she was often treated like a stick of furniture. She dressed unattractively and had hair down to her waist which she braided. She was quiet and obedient, but she read books voraciously, and very much wanted to go to college. Her father forbade it. Education was not necessary for a female. The books, however, inspired her to break free from her shuttered life.
One night, she left the house defying her parents, wearing a red dress she made for herself, looking a bit like a harlot in the eyes of those who were the upper class. That night, she met Rafe Martinelli, a young man, a farm boy, about a half dozen years her junior. Both of them were lonely, and they fell into a secret relationship. Suddenly, Elsa was pregnant and totally unprepared for it. No one had ever explained the workings of the body to her. Disowned and deposited on his doorstep, her life went into a completely different direction, as did his. He was supposed to leave for college and was engaged to be married to another, now he was tied to the farm. However, they both tried to do the right thing and make the marriage work. His family eventually embraced her more fully and more lovingly than those in the cold household where she was raised.
For a while, the Martinelli farm did well. Elsa felt like she had a family that cared about her and she loved her life. She had two children to whom she was totally devoted. Then came the drought, beginning in 1931 and continuing for years. It completely devastated the Great Plains and Texas where they lived. Crops died, farmers lost their homes and land. The Martinelli’s just barely hung on. Rafe began to drink. He hated his life and was filled with despair. Tumbleweeds bounced across the land and dust storms destroyed the farms. Houses fell into disrepair or were foreclosed. Families dispersed, husbands abandoned wives, and Rafe was one of those husbands. One day, he was simply gone, leaving everyone behind. At 12 years old, Loreda mourned the loss her father and blamed her mother, but she would come to realize that he had left them all, not just her. He had left his parents, his wife and his children. He had run from his responsibility.
When Elsa’s son Anthony developed pneumonia from the dust storms, in order to save his life and help him recover, she left the farm with her children and headed west to California. Once there, she learned what true despair was, what terrible hatred and prejudice was present in the towns she entered. Okies were not welcome. Women alone were not welcome. They were looked down upon and mistreated. They were starving. They were good people who had fallen on hard times and were treated like criminals, like animals carrying disease.
When Loreda became fed up and ran away, she met a man named Jack. He was a Communist who organized unions all over the country. He wanted them to help him. The story takes a tragic turn because of this, but as it journeys to its end, Elsa learns what real love is, Loreda learns how wonderful a a mother and daughter relationship can be and gains a purpose in life, and all the Martinellis learn about true love, at last. Communism was portrayed positively, but it wasn’t the end result of their efforts or their goals, and it represented the demand for equal rights and decent pay more than a political position of government control. They hoped and searched for mutual respect.
There were some scenes that felt contrived with too much of a romantic theme, but it was the romance that opened up Elsa’s mind and spirit. Sometimes disaster following disaster seemed to stifle the ability to suspend disbelief, because it was a stretch to believe that all of the tragedies could be experienced within the microcosm of this one family. The Progressive agenda was front and center as climate, immigration and migration were major themes. Overall, the theme was the disgraceful treatment of migrants, immigrants and those down at heel, like the “Okies”, who were refused even simple human kindness by most people who thought they were “more decent”.
The author uses the title to explain that “the four winds”, from the four corners of the world, had blown Elsa and those like her from their farms and their homes, to California and other places, to lives sometimes more hardscrabble. Gleaned from the diaries of women that lived through the dust bowl and migration westward, the author has painted a vivid picture of what their lives must have been like during those tumultuous times, and she highlights their bravery and strength. In her comment, the author compares the worst economic time in America, during the three decades of this novel, to the America now suffering from the pandemic and the ensuing economic decline in America. However, we were a country that I believe had been made great again, and only went into decline because of circumstances beyond the President’s control. It is only thanks to Trump that we were able to have a vaccine for the China Virus, and we are now hopeful that we will get the sickness and death behind us, once again restoring America to greatness.
To the author’s credit, she did not politicize this book, although she did speak of liberal issues and showed her hand in agreement with them. Hannah wanted to write a book that would emphasize the plight of women and shine a light on those with the courage and fortitude to face disaster and deprivation with grace, to illuminate the bravery of these women who bore the hardships of the day-to-day life, protecting their family, feeding them and caring for them as they suffered.
Some parts of the story seem incomplete. What happened to Rafe? How did the children fare in later life considering all they had suffered? How did the Dust Bowl end? I would have liked a fuller description of what did FDR did to help the farmers restore the Plains to productivity. I would have liked Jack, the Communist, to be more fully developed, and I would have liked the emphasis to be not on Communism, but on shared respect for people everywhere. However, this book opened my eyes to a period of time I knew little about and inspired me to investigate it further. What more can anyone want from a book than such inspiration?
It's 1934 in Texas and the recession and drought have drastically changed the lives of the farmers. Instead of the crops they had in the past, they now have dry fields that don't yield anything and dust storms that make their lives and their farms even more brutal. Many farmers are losing their farms and equipment to the banks and the federal government is doing nothing to help their plight. They've heard that California has jobs and life will be good for them there. Many of them pack up their household goods and start the trek to California. When they got there, they find a way of life much worse than what they left. They are forced to live in unsafe conditions and paid a pittance for helping the rich farmers pick their crops.
Elsa has to decide whether to take her children to California for a better life or stay in Texas on the family farm. Her husband has left her and his parents are struggling to keep the farm profitable. When her son gets sick from the dust, she feels that she has no choice and leaves to find a better life. What she finds is a camp full of people who can barely earn the money to feed their children. She also finds prejudice and dislike from the Californians. Elsa never gives up in trying to keep her children healthy and fed. She'd never felt strong or brave in her entire life but she showed bravery and love every day to try to find a better life for her family.
This novel is so well researched and written that I could feel the pain of Elsa and her children. I admired Elsa and all of the other parents who did back- breaking work to help their families in this terrible time in American history. I'll warn you that this is not an easy book to read. I cried more reading this book than any other book that I've read recently. At the end the overwhelming feeling is one of admiration of Elsa as a strong and brave woman and strong hope for the future.
This is a novel that I will keep and re-read sometime in the future. It's a book that I am so glad the Kristin Hannah wrote full of characters that I won't ever forget.
The setting is brutal. The heat beats down on them. They suffer through
Hannah vividly describes the harsh realities that those living during the depression faced. She paints a bleak picture that will stay with you long after you have finished the book.
Written from a woman's point-of-view, The Four Winds is set in 1934 during the Great Depression
The protagonist, Elsa, came from a well-to-do family who treated her unkindly and made her feel unloved. She had no self-esteem and longed to be loved and be a member of a family who cared about her. She found that love from her in-laws after getting married. Her son suffered from dust pneumonia so she and her children eventually decided to move to southern California after hearing there were jobs there.
This realistic novel was emotional for me from start to finish, sometimes I was on the verge of tears. The migrants from Texas, Oklahoma, and other states suffering from the dust storms were treated unfairly in California and many died from starvation, typhoid, dysentery, and other diseases. The owners of cotton fields, fruit orchards, etc. paid the workers very little and got away with it since there were way more workers than jobs.
Warrior Elsa was courageous and brave for her two children despite the extreme poverty they and other migrants endured. There is a lot of interesting information about union workers which the author wove into the story. Be forewarned: the ending is very bleak.
The following quote from the novel was true at the time and is true in 2021:
The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. —FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT
When Rafe suddenly abandons his wife and children during the unrelenting drought that ruins their crops, Elsa bonds even more closely with the Martinellis despite their hardships. This is the time of the dust bowl and the Great Depression when families leave for what they think is the promised land in California. Elsa is forced to make the difficult decision also to join those heading west with her children. When they reach California, it is only to encounter even greater hardships. Those migrating to California are known collectively as "Okies" and forced to endure humiliation, exploitation and poverty in unimaginable ways.
Kristin Hannah has done remarkable research into this dark history in American life. Elsa's indomitable strength and courage, combined with the accounting of the horrors of the dust bowl, make this a memorable reading experience.
In The Four Winds we meet Elsa Wolcott in 1921, The scion of a wealthy yet emotionally distant family, she predictably seeks love elsewhere with equally predictable results. Disowned by her own family and dumped on the doorstep of her suitor’s, she is transformed in an instant from the daughter of wealthy merchants to the life of a hardscrabble farmer. Fortunately, what the Martinelli family lacks in wealth, they make up for in character and a determination to build a life in this land far from the country they left behind. Elsa is grudgingly accepted into the family by her husband’s parents and they are soon joined by Loreda, the result of Elsa’s indiscretion. Elsa adapts to her new circumstances quickly and life is going well. The price of wheat is high and prosperity is just around the corner.
Cut to 1934. The Depression, drought and dust storms have changed everything. The wheat is dead. The animals are dying. Bit by bit, everything they built up and put by is dwindling away in their desperate effort to survive. Finally, Elsa must face the difficult decision to take her children west, away from the storms and starvation.
California in 1934 was not a welcoming place for the dispossessed. Here, Elsa and Loreda’s strength of character is called into play as never before.
Hannah started writing this book three years ago, with no expectation that a book about the hardships faced by Americans in the Great Depression would become so relevant to our lives today. Is this book as good as The Grapes of Wrath? No, but it is timely and serves to remind us that we have gone through difficult times before and come out the other side all the stronger as a result. I recommend this book and rate it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The review was based on an advanced reading copy obtained at no cost from the publisher in exchange for an unbiased review. While this does take any ‘not worth what I paid for it’ statements out of my review, it otherwise has no impact on the content of my review.
I normally read my books in about a day or two. This one took me weeks. It was just too slow moving and I found myself forcing myself to pick this up to finish. It was just too slow and too repetitive. It started off
Sadly, I ended up skimming to the end on this one.