The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah: A review


This book was, in many ways, a depressing read but then it is primarily about the Great Depression of the 1930s and its effect on the lives of ordinary people. The story is told through the character of Elsa, a young woman from West Texas, who was forced into a loveless marriage after getting pregnant. It was the way things were done then and, in some cases, still are.

Elsa was a gangly, rather unattractive young woman, but she had great reserves of courage and moral strength. She would need all of that when she was abandoned by her feckless husband and had to make a life for herself and her two children.

The marriage may have been loveless in regard to her husband, Rafe, but there was plenty of love from her in-laws, Rafe's parents, Rose and Tony. They recognized her quality and worth and supported her. In return, they became the beloved parents she had really never had.

As the middle of the country became the Dust Bowl, Elsa, like thousands of others, had to make a decision of whether to stay and fight to keep her land or to go and seek her fortune in the West. In the end, circumstances forced her hand and she headed west to California.

In California, she became a migrant worker hoeing and then picking cotton in the fields of the landowners. It was a hard life but it afforded a living for herself and her children and she found friendship and love among her fellow laborers.

She and her fellow migrants also found prejudice and discrimination. The landowners who needed their services viewed them as somehow a lower class of humans and sought to keep them from enjoying the full benefits of citizenship. But some rebelled against such injustice, including the man Elsa fell in love with, a young labor organizer, who fought for better working conditions and pay for the migrants.

Hannah gives us a stirring picture of the lives of the "Okies" who made the move west and of all the obstacles they faced, primarily the unreasoning prejudice with which they had to contend. It must have taken great courage to make that move, or maybe it just took the fact that they didn't have any other viable option. Perhaps that is the case with many of the great "migrations" in human history.

Comments

  1. I want to read this one for that Dust Bowl time period and setting. I read Grapes of Wrath earlier this year and found it so compelling. Am definitely putting this one on my list for next year. :D

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    1. This one would be a good follow-up for "Grapes of Wrath" - much the same story but told from a very different perspective.

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  2. Everyone in our book group loved this book, a recent selection. We have one man in our group, and he surprised us all by saying this is one of the best books he's ever read. Our discussion centered on the plight of a woman during this time and Elsa's supportive immigrant in-laws.

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    1. It is a very well written book and it's not surprising to me that everyone in your group loved it. The in-laws were definitely strong characters and really made it possible for Elsa to carry on and make the choices she made after she was deserted by their son.

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  3. There are some excellent books coming out with the setting of the Great Depression. They can be depressing, but for some reason I tend to find that time period compelling.

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    1. It was such a fraught period and everything was changing, although that probably wasn't entirely evident to those who lived through it. Looking back at everything that our parents and grandparents went through, I think we can agree that they earned the sobriquet "The Great Generation."

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    2. I agree. After witnessing the behavior of many people during the pandemic, I don't think many of us would ever come close to qualifying for this epithet.

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  4. Winter Garden is one of my favorite novels by Kristan Hannah. She definitely studies the pertinent milieu before publishing a new work. I look forward to reading this latest one. Thanks for a great review.

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    1. I haven't read "Winter Garden" but it's on my list and hopefully I'll get to it at some point.

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  5. I was a bit on the fence about whether to pick this book up -- due to it being overly depressive -- but it seems to be quite transportive of the journey to Calif and once there so perhaps I will put it back on my list.

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    1. It's really an homage to the strength of the human spirit and the capacity to overcome hardships.

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