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January 22nd, 2022

the four winds spotlight pageELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


I see a lot of book titles working up the bestselling books list on the rail of this entertainment page and recently, I took a chance and borrowed another book I’d been seeing on the list for quite some time, Kristin Hannah’s “The Four Winds.” The story takes place in 1934, the middle of the Great Depression, and follows Elsa Martinelli and her children as they move to California trying to find a better life after being driven away from their home in the Great Plains due to the horrific dust storms and other bad circumstances. 

One of the major things I enjoyed about the book was the level of detail and description throughout. Hannah describes the dust storms so well, I could almost legitimately picture the dust and dirt and hear the howling winds of each storm. Hannah also does a great job describing the drought conditions and absolute barrenness of the lands of the Martinelli farm that force Elsa and her children to leave. The descriptions are also pretty historically accurate of those conditions, as well as the descriptions of boarded up and bankrupt storefronts, and all of that culminates into how much EVERYONE struggled during the Great Depression, particularly in the Great Plains.

And it is not the description of the external conditions Hannah describes so well. Every character is given a spotlight throughout the book as far as expressing feelings and emotions, and the reader gets the point of view of everyone, from Elsa’s feelings of wanting to be loved by someone and wanting a better life for her children, to daughter Loreda’s feelings of wanting there to be more to life than just surviving each day. Each emotion is expressed so well, and it’s all written so naturally that everyone can relate to at least some part of what the characters are thinking and feeling. The only minor gripe I have with this aspect is I wish Loreda would have had a “Come to Jesus” moment where she realizes how much her mother is doing for them earlier – she’s a total brat throughout pretty much the entire book and focuses on only HER pain and frustration, and it’s not until basically the end when she even somewhat feels bad about how she treated Elsa. I wish there would have been a little more character development and maturity with her character, because I found it rather hard to sympathize with her as the story went along. 

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Something else that struck me about the book was how even though the story takes place all the way back in the 1930s, there were a couple things that reminded me of some current events. Part of the story focuses on the employees at the farm where Elsa works are fighting for better wages so they can support their families better, which mirrors EXACTLY the current debate about raising the minimum wage and employees wanting to be treated like actual human beings after returning to work post-COVID. Another part of the story I feel parallels current events is there are a couple scenes where Elsa (and others she cares about) have to fight just to be seen by a doctor in the hospital, which has discriminatory measures against people recently moving into the area from the Great Plains – there are far too many stories both past and present about people having to fight just to be listened to by their doctors or for insurance to cover one procedure or another. When reading those particular parts, I couldn’t help but say out loud “Yeah, because that discussion/debate totally ISN’T occurring even in the 21st Century.”

I also really liked the pacing of the book. It goes very quickly, making for an easy read, and while there is quite a bit of description, nothing is really lingered on for an unnecessarily long time. With slightly fewer than 400 pages, it’s a book that can very easily be read in the course of a weekend, which is actually how I ended up reading through it. As I was reading, I kept wanting to go on and learn more about what happened with everyone, and with the setting and everything else being so vivid, I almost couldn’t put it down while I had it out from the library. 

Overall, I very much enjoyed “The Four Winds,” and I would give it a solid “A” grade. The writing and story are great and everything flows off the pages, and the description in each scene was so vividly written that I could practically picture everything that was going on. I also really liked how some parts of the story mirrors some current events (particularly with workers’ rights and healthcare access) even though it’s set all the way back in the Great Depression. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who’s a historical fiction fan and fans of other books by Kristin Hannah, including “The Nightingale” and “The Great Alone” (which are also very good).

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