I’ve read both of Kristin Hannah’s biggest novels (The Nightingale and The Great Alone) and loved them both, so when I heard she had a new book coming out, there was no question that I was going to read The Four Winds too.
And I LOVED it.
I’d been dragging through an audiobook before this one and when I finally gave up on the other one and started this one, I remembered how – when you’re really loving your audiobook – you find an incredible amount of time to listen.
I couldn’t listen fast enough!
the four winds by kristin hannah
The Four Winds begins with Elsa Walcott in Texas in 1921.
Life looks good in Texas, with the Great War behind them and a new era of plenty before them.
Elsa’s family is well-to-do, but Elsa’s life is small and sheltered. She suffered a severe illness as a child and her family treats her as an invalid. She’s also very plain (which is her family has been quick to remind of for years) and at the age of 25, her odds of getting married are getting worse and worse.
And then she meets Rafe Martinelli and gets pregnant. Her parents insist she marry Rafe and so, instead of him going off to college (he’s only 18), they marry and live on his parents’ farm, raising their two small children.
But then, the Great Depression hits and, even worse in Texas, the Dust Bowl begins with farms failing and the land itself becoming nearly inhospitable.
Elsa has grown to love her in-laws – an Italian couple who treat her better and more lovingly than her own parents ever have – and she loves the land they work together, but it’s becoming clear that the risks of staying are growing higher every day.
Her neighbors are flooding west – mostly to California – in search of work and clean air and better living and at some point, Elsa will have to decide if her family will do the same.
The thing that I think makes Kristin Hannah’s books so wildly popular is that she does a phenomenal job melding both incredible, interesting characters with terrific historical settings and events. And this one is no exception – I was completely invested in Elsa and the other characters (big and small!) and I was equally fascinated by the historical background that they were set against.
I’ve read a fair amount about the Great Depression, but I loved learning more about the Dust Bowl and also the migration of so many people to California and what awaited the families that took their chances on a bteter life there.
And I was all in on Elsa – she’s had a rough go of life, but she’s a fighter, willing to work hard for her family, her farm and her future, no matter what it takes.
I heard from a lot of people that this book was super depressing, but I didn’t really feel that way (perhaps because my expectations were set for it to be somewhat of a downer).
Yes, terrible things happen – again and again – but Elsa’s indomitable will to keep her family safe, fed and together kept me feeling hopeful throughout the book.
And as a modern reader, we all know that the Depression and the drought didn’t last forever.
Compared to The Great Alone, this book felt significantly less intense. It was no less gripping, but it didn’t make me feel the same white-knuckle fear that that one left me with.
Also, I loved the audiobook version of The Four Winds! Julia Whelan (who is the narrator for The Great Alone audio too) does a phenomenal job and I felt like I was RIGHT there watching dust storms blow through Texas. If you’re looking for a gripping audiobook, this is definitely one of them.
If you’ve read The Four Winds, I’d love to hear what you thought!
If you liked The Four Winds, you might like these books too:
- Lovely War by Julie Berry (incredible WWI historical fiction – this is one of my top ten books ever)
- Last Christmas in Paris by Hazel Gaynor and Heather Webb (the audiobook is SO good)
- Orphan Train by Christina Baker Kline
Christina M. says
I absolutely loved it! I loved Elsa and the kids and especially Rose and Tony. They reminded me of my aunt and uncle in Italy who take care of a farm and are hard-working people who just do what they’re supposed to do. They were of course disappointed that Rafe wouldn’t go to college but they took Elsa in and gave her so much love and support. I loved that.
Such a wonderful book!
I loved all of her other books, but I hated The Four Winds. It was so depressing, just one bad thing after another, and I really hated the end most of all. I was so disappointed because I usually love her books!
I thought it was so much less depressing than The Nightingale (which gave me real nightmares!) and The Great Alone. The ending was disappointing for me because I was so invested in Elsa. I thought the discussion about unions and fair wages is so relevant to the discussions today about increasing the minimum wage. Really helped me understand why the minimum wage is so important and how it impacts families in a very real way.
I haven’t read this one yet. I’m on the (very long) waiting list at my library but I am so excited to hear that the character in this book is described as plain. I would have liked The Nightingale SO MUCH MORE if how beautiful the sisters were hadn’t been emphasized so much. It really annoyed me when I read the book and when people gush about it, it’s all I can think about.
Jen Stockard says
This book was tragically beautiful for me in many ways. The biggest was that I come from grandparents that moved from Oklahoma to California during the dust bowl for work. I wasn’t super proud to claim that my beloved grandpa was an Okie (it was still pretty derogatory in CA in the 1990s). I’m so glad I got to learn more about what my grandparents went through and understand the hardships of so many during this time. I cried and cried as I came to understand things I did not appreciate.
Janssen Bradshaw says
I love this so much – thank you for sharing!