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  • Maya Yegorova

'The Four Winds': Book Review

By Maya Yegorova

More than halfway through the historical novel ‘The Four Winds’ by Kristin Hannah, protagonist Elsa Martinelli says, “Courage is fear you ignore.” While this memorable quote is short, it makes a definite impact: It leaves a striking impression on the reader and captures the theme of resilience that pervades the book.

Hannah has a remarkable talent for writing historical fictional novels, and she has evident past success: Her 2015 World War II novel ‘The Nightingale,’ a work that focused on the French resistance, was named the Goodreads Best Historical Fiction novel for 2015. Hannah’s description of the siege of Leningrad during World War in her 2010 novel ‘Winter Garden’ placed her on the New York Times bestseller list under the paperback trade fiction category in January 2011.

Even now, in 2021, Hannah proves she’s a tour de force in the historical fiction category with the release of ‘The Four Winds’. While the novel is not set in World War II, the depiction of the United States during the Great Depression is heart-rendering and Hannah preserves her reputation of creating a poignant story that draws the reader in.

“The Four Winds” takes place in the 1934 Texas Panhandle town of Dalhart. Dalhart is a quintessential farming town in the Great Plains that is known for its abundance of wheat and contributes to the region’s rich farming heritage.

When the Great Depression hits the country, unemployment skyrockets and droughts occur in the Great Plains. Due to the extreme water shortage, crops wither and reveal the exposed land. The soil blows away, causing dust storms that are dangerous and life-threatening: People experience shortness of breath and heavy bouts of couching.

Elsa Martinelli witnesses her farm deteriorate each day, as her animals pass away and her crops don’t grow. When her husband abandons her because he has given up hope, Elsa must now decide on whether to stay in ravaged Texas with her two children, Loreda and Anthony, or move to California to find employment.

At first glance, ‘The Four Winds’ has a plot that’s reminiscent of the timeless classic ‘The Grapes of Wrath’ by John Steinbeck. In Steinbeck’s novel, Tom Joad endures the farming crisis that the Dust Bowl causes and abandons his farm to seek a new job on the West Coast. While it’s no secret that Steinbeck’s writing is commendable, Hannah delivers an innovative twist with the release of ‘The Four Winds’: Her work spotlights a woman heroine that must balance childcare and farm work.

Elsa is a testament to the power of women: She keeps calm for her children when she asks them to put on a gas mask inside the home when a dust storm hits and to wear the mask to bed to avoid suffocation. Once Elsa and her two children move to California, they have to live in a tent in a crowded migrant camp and work for only forty cents a day. Despite the inhumane conditions, Elsa refuses to admit her struggles to her children and always reminds them that she will never leave them.

Elsa demonstrates the unstoppable qualities of women with each day she’s in California: She forms a friendship with Jean, another mother in the migrant camp, and walks straight to the nearest hospital to get help for Jean when this woman falls gravely ill (a wonderful part about a historical fiction book like this is that it exposes the reader to what happened in a specific time period. It’s shocking to read that nurses, along with other workers like cashiers and teachers, would refer to the migrants as “Okies” and “filthy dirt” just because these migrants were hoping for an improved quality of life in California). Elsa refuses to leave the hospital until the nurses agree to help Jean.

Elsa is a determined mother, friend, daughter, and farmer. She is proof that women warrant commendation.

While Elsa’s strong characterization is unforgettable, Hannah’s emphasis on the theme of persistence is also a wonder. No matter what happens, none of the characters accept defeat and continue to persevere, even when the future looks bleak. Reading this book in 2021 is interesting, as ‘The Four Winds’ is a timely story: The ongoing pandemic and rough job market tests one’s resolve.

Yet reading this book during a once-in-a-century pandemic is strangely comforting: This book demonstrates that humanity has went through difficult times before and that horrid moments will eventually pass. ‘The Four Winds’ can inspire readers.

‘The Four Winds’ is a must-read if readers want to see how people overcome adversity. It’s impossible to say “just one more chapter” because Elsa is such an empathetic heroine, and the reader keeps wondering how the future will look like for Elsa. The only thing is that a free box of tissues should be given whenever someone purchases ‘The Four Winds!’

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