“Hope is a coin I carry, given to me by a woman I will always love, and I hold it now as I journey west, part of a new generation of seekers.” (The Four Winds 448).
Kristin Hannah’s The Four Winds (St. Martin’s Press, 2021) was one of the year’s most anticipated releases. Hype for the historical fiction novel set during the Great Depression is what prompted me to read my first Hannah novel, The Nightingale, last fall. I wanted to get a feel for her writing style before The Four Winds was published; I suppose I’m a couple decades late to the Kristin Hannah party, but here I am.
I stated in my review of The Nightingale that the writing was “simple and comforting” and that the “familiar simplicity” is how Hannah is able to destroy her readers. The Four Winds is written in that same style, making it a quick and easy read that toys with those heart strings. This novel did not sucker punch me like The Nightingale did, but the last sentence, that beautiful full circle, brought me to my knees – I can’t speak as to the rest of her catalogue, but this was my favorite of the two I’ve read.
It is the most depressing book about the Great Depression. Elsa is tragically broken -constantly told she’s not good enough, pretty enough, worthy enough. She only wants to be loved. Rafe is a young man who sees a willing a girl. A choice is made. A choice that manages to give Elsa all the things she’s ever wanted. Readily discarded by her family, Elsa is taken in by Rafe’s and she finally feels love.
The bond between Elsa and her mother-in-law, Rose, with the backdrop of the wheat field, easily calls to mind Naomi and Ruth. It’s a beautifully depicted relationship. The strongest writing in both The Nightingale and The Four Winds comes from these gorgeously nuanced relationships between women. In this novel, that’s Elsa and Rose, Elsa and Jean, and Elsa and Loreda.
The first half of the novel is set in Texas during the Dust Bowl, and the despair settles on the reader like silica in the lungs; there is no romanticizing this time in American history that destroyed so many and so much. The second half of the novel follows Elsa and her two children as they head west to California, and this section vibrates with a sense of urgency that is absent in the first. The despair and hopelessness continue in this section, but there are more sparks of joy and sparks of life – particularly in Elsa. My main criticism is that I wish her awakening had happened earlier.
I thoroughly enjoyed this novel. I liked the history, but I particularly enjoyed the relationships. I thought it got a little rushed and glitchy toward the end, and there are certain plot bunnies I wish were allowed to hop around a bit more, but it’s a solidly good read.
Read this book.