Although I am certainly familiar with Kristin Hannah, The Four Winds is the first book I have read by her. This novel has loads of positive reviews and made several ‘Best of’ lists, and while I certainly had no trouble reading it, I am not sure this book has turned me into a fan.
Elsa Wolcott has been lonely her whole life. She is tall and awkward, skinny and shy.
It didn’t take a genius to look down the road of Elsa’s life and see her future. She would stay here, in her parents’ house on Rock Road, being cared for by Maria, the maid who’d managed the household forever. Someday, when Maria retired, Elsa would be left to care for her parents, and then, when they were gone, she would be alone.
Elsa is twenty-five when she meets Rafe Martinelli, a young man “so handsome she felt a little sick.” Soon after meeting Rafe, she discovers that she is pregnant and her father packs her up and drives her out to the Martinelli farm in Lonesome Tree and leaves her there. Although Rafe is not unkind, he is also not all that interested in marrying Elsa, but his parents, Mary and Tony, insist and soon Elsa finds herself absorbed into this warm, Italian family. Despite knowing nothing about farming life, Elsa is a hard worker and proves herself willing to do whatever it takes, which turns out to be a lot more than she bargained for when the droughts and wind storms come.
Years of drought, combined with the economic ravages of the Great Depression, had brought the Great Plains to its knees.
They’d suffered through these dry years in the Texas Panhandle, but with the whole country devastated by the Crash of ’29 and twelve million people out of work, the big-city newspapers didn’t bother covering the drought. The government offered no assistance, not that the farmers wanted it anyway. They were too proud to live on the dole.
Elsa and her family stumble through devastating windstorms, lack of water, dying animals, devastated crops, scorching temperatures and dust for many years until Elsa’s youngest child, Anthony, gets ill from dust pneumonia and Elsa makes the decision to take her children to California, the supposed land of milk and honey. It turns out things are not any better there.
The Four Winds is an easy read and I liked some of these characters a lot, especially Elsa’s in-laws. I was familiar with the Dustbowl and what happened during the 1930s, but I didn’t know anything about how migrant workers were treated in California, when they arrived by the hundreds of thousands in the 1930s.
What I didn’t like was Hannah’s very obvious emotional manipulation. I knew she wanted me to cry – which I did not. Perhaps that’s because the last 75 pages or so felt rushed, or maybe it’s just that I could hear the swelling music and the language felt purposely manipulative. I love a good cry, and there were certainly some things in this book that should have had me reaching for the tissue, but it just didn’t work for me.