The Four Winds

Written by Kristin Hannah
Review by Brodie Curtis

During the 1920s, Elsa’s Texas Panhandle family smothers her as a fragile outcast until she rebels to experience life with Rafe, a farmer. She ends up pregnant and is taken in to marry Rafe by his kindly immigrant farmer parents. Life is hard work, but they have fully stocked shelves for over a decade until drought and dust storms ravage the land, when Rafe abandons Elsa and their two children, Loreda and Ant.

Desperate struggles against nature are portrayed with harrowing images of devastation, dire perils, and death. Elsa has no choice but to take her two children to California in search of work in the cotton fields and a better life. But unscrupulous growers exploit Central Valley workers, wringing labor out of malnourished migrants for meager wages, leaving them impoverished and beholden, scorned by native Californians. Conditions are hopeless unless the workers, whom Elsa has come to admire, band together. Elsa and Loreda meet an organizer who helps them realize the time has come because “The four winds have blown us here, people from all across the country, to the very edge of this great land…”

Elsa’s and Loreda’s characters are developed masterfully as they toil together through one heart-wrenching scene after another in a relationship that arcs from unconditional mother-child love to teenage withdrawal, to a common fight for survival and, finally, to the bonding of their convictions. The Four Winds has considerable historical overlap with John Steinbeck’s classic, The Grapes of Wrath, yet bestselling author Kristin Hannah puts her own stamp on human suffering of Great Depression-era migrants. Her usual smooth, taut prose draws a sharp contrast to Steinbeck’s inimitable style, with its colloquial dialogue, parables, and sometimes lengthy sentence constructions. An immensely satisfying book.