The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is hands-down one of the best books I read in 2021. It tells the tale of Elsa Martinelli, a woman facing the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl, geopolitics, classism, racism, and being a single mother, in her path to achieve the American Dream. I loved it, and I think you will, too!
ADD TO YOUR LIBRARY
IF YOU HAVEN’T READ THE BOOK, STOP READING! SPOILERS AHEAD
We meet Elsa, who is an older girl of marriageable age but is looked over in her small Texas town. She has no romantic experience when she encounters Rafe, a younger Italian farm boy who is discriminated against for his race by the townspeople. They find solace in one another and begin a physical relationship, which ultimately ends up with Elsa getting pregnant.
Elsa’s family is disgraced and throws her out not only for getting pregnant, but getting pregnant by an Italian. She is taken in by the Martinelli family, who love her even when Rafe resents her for “trapping” him.
She grows to love her life with the Martinellis as she raises two children and grows close to Rafe’s parents, tolerating Rafe and he, her… until one day, Rafe leaves for California, abandoning his family and his children. Elsa’s daughter Loreda resents her, blaming her for her father’s departure and setting up a tumultuous relationship. Elsa’s son Ant is too young to understand.
Now a single mother, Elsa faces the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl head-on, and has to decide to stay in Texas where crops won’t grow and poverty is increasing, or start a new life in California. Leaving her mother-in-law and father-in-law was very hard, but Elsa loads up her kids in a truck and sets out west.
The journey to California is rife with danger from multiple angles, and Elsa and her kids eventually make their way there to find out that the promised land of which they dreamt is discriminatory and classist. They have to live in a migrant shanty town while Elsa tries to find work, as they cannot receive support from the state due to not having residency.
Loreda is insufferable at many points during these lows, adding stress and sadness onto already bad situations. She really irked me.
Moving on… there are a whole lot of touching plot as Elsa bonds with fellow migrants and finds her voice, but all pale in comparison to her meeting the not-so-secret Communist and pro-Union love interest. It’s a relationship that is doomed from the start, in many ways. It was an interesting twist.
I liked that Elsa was able to find herself via the struggles and experience love not only from the love interest but from Loreda eventually, but there were so many sad things that I definitely had to take breaks reading this. I know this was a hard time, but then there was Ant’s lung disease, and the flood, and so many other bad things happening to these people who were clearly already suffering.
And then, of course, the end. Elsa dies leading a strike. I am happy, again, that she knows what she stands for, but can this woman not get a break? Her poor daughter, who was abandoned by her father and spent years hating her mother for it, and they finally got into a good spot only for her to DIE?
- Elsa and her character arc! from cowering in her family to being the matriarch leading change for working people in California, unafraid of her beliefs ’til the very end
- I learned a lot about this time period
- I got annoyed with Loreda a lot but she did come around
- selfishly I am sad Elsa didn’t get a happy ending with her hot commie man but that’s why it’s a *novel* right
This was 4/5 stars for me!