|Title||The Four Winds|
|Finished||July 10, 2022|
|View/Purchase (non affiliate)||Amazon|
In 1921 Elsa Wolcott was dismissed by her family as “‘too’ everything – too tall, too thin, too pale, too unsure of herself”. [Page 6]
“On the few instances when she dared to look up from a beloved book and stare out the window, she saw the emptiness of a spinster’s future stretching out to the flat horizon and beyond.”Page 27
When she attempts to break out of the pigeon hole she finds herself in, she ends up pregnant, disowned by her family and living on a farm in the Texas panhandle with her new husband and his farming family – the Martinellis. She is a WASP whereas they are Italian Catholic; they are farmers rather than from a business family like hers. And yet she finds acceptance and love in this family. Even with this love, her life gets so much harder when her husband leaves, the Great Depression deepens its grip, and The Dust Bowl hits.
Hannah’s description of the Dust Bowl’s impact on individuals and families is heartbreaking. The dirt sifts everywhere and the only defense was to hunker down in the house with a damp cloth around your face. Elsa’s son Antony contracts dust pneumonia which forces the family out of Texas an on the road to California. Like the Joads in John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, California is not happy to see the immigrants from the east. The big farms took a page from the Appalachian coal mining company towns where you could only buy on credit.
“The reality of the situation sank in. Why hadn’t Elsa figured it out before? Welty [the grower] wanted her in their debt, wanted her to spend her relief money lavishly and to be broke again next winter. Of course they’d give you cash fro credit – probably at a high interest rate – because poor folks worked for less, asked for less.”Page 354
Even knowing she is stuck in this cycle of poverty Elsa doesn’t want to make a problem because her family needs to eat. Her daughter, Loreda, and a man she meets wants to change things.
“Elsa crossed her arms. ‘All my life I’ve been told to make no noise, don’t want too much, be grateful for any scrap that came my way. And I’ve done that. I thought if I just did what women are supposed to do and played by the rules, it would … I don’t know .. change. But the way we are treated…”Page 426
I’ve read comments from readers complaining about the politics of the book. But this is historical fiction and the labor strife was part of the time. Big business and politics rigged the system to keep people in abject poverty; “the state was helping the growers avoid a strike by cutting relief to people who were already barely surviving.” [Page 395] If you don’t like the politics, don’t blame Kristin Hannah; just open your eyes and read. A great place to start is Freedom From Fear by David M. Kennedy. He has a section called “American Labor and Recovery” (chapters six through ten) which covers the ordeals of the Great Depression, the discontent and attempts at reform. You can read my synopsis here.
Kristin Hannah’s prose is beautiful. The subplot of Elsa’s battles with her daughter reflect the tensions facing the family, and the country. While family and relationships are necessary to surviving, sometimes they aren’t enough. It’s a beautiful book; I highly recommend it.