From the publisher:
The Today Show/Jenna’s Book Club February Pick
One of “2021’s Most Highly Anticipated New Books”―Newsweek
One of “27 of 2021’s Most Anticipated Historical Fiction Novels That Will Sweep You Away”―Oprah Magazine
One of “The Most Anticipated Books of Winter 2021″―Parade
One of the “Books Everyone Will Talk About in 2021”―PopSugar
One of “The 57 Most Anticipated Books Of 2021″―Elle
One of “32 Great Books To Start Off Your New Year”―Refinery29
One of “25 of the Best Books Arriving in 2021”―BookBub
One of “The 21 Best Books of 2021 for Working Moms”―Working Mother
One of “The Most Anticipated Winter Books That Will Keep You Cozy All Season Long”―Stylecaster
One of the “Most Anticipated Books of 2021”―Frolic
From the number-one bestselling author of The Nightingale and The Great Alone comes a powerful American epic about love and heroism and hope, set during the Great Depression, a time when the country was in crisis and at war with itself, when millions were out of work and even the land seemed to have turned against them.
“My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family.”
Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.
By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.
In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa―like so many of her neighbors―must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.
The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it―the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.
For the past four years, I’ve been mostly reading happy books with happy endings. Reality was so bleak that these books were my escape. It’s 2021, we have a new president, a Covid vaccine, and I am hopeful once again. So I found myself seeking out other books, darker books, and I thought I could switch things up again. I’ve always read broadly, across most genres. I want to find my way back to that. So I started here. With the darkest, most depressing book I’ve read in many, many years. And you know what? It was great.
I think the NY Times review summed it up beautifully: “The Four Winds seems eerily prescient in 2021 . . . Its message is galvanizing and hopeful: We are a nation of scrappy survivors. We’ve been in dire straits before; we will be again. Hold your people close.”
Elsa is a remarkable woman, but she doesn’t know it. Suffering with rheumatic fever as a child, she believed she would probably not live to adulthood. Her family thought her plain and boring and let her know that. But she does live, and at 25 finally realizes this was going to be her life. Living at home with her parents, until they were gone. She asked if she could go to college, and is laughed at. She saw her future as bleak; never marrying, never having children, never having a life. Until the night she sneaks out to go to a speakeasy.
She meets Rafe, a very good looking young man, several years younger than herself. She goes off with him that night, then sneaks back home. She meets him a few more times and eventually finds herself pregnant. Her family, pillars of the community, are incensed. Rafe is Italian, and to her family, he is beneath them. Rafe does the right thing and marries Elsa.
Their marriage is not great. Elsa loves Rafe, but he is always distant. They live with his parents on the family farm. The Great Depression and then drought strikes, and stays for years, starving the family. Hannah’s vivid descriptions of hunger and dust storms and life during that time is simply mesmerizing. Elsa’s world turns upside down. Rafe leaves them. And eventually, her young son develops life-threatening breathing issues from all the dust.
Elsa takes the family truck and the children and heads west. Her in-laws can’t leave the farm, but they understand she has to go. All the talk is about California needing workers, so Elsa heads west. The journey is harrowing, and when they arrive, they do not find a land of milk and honey. Instead, they find poverty and illness, and despair. But Elsa never gives up, and she won’t let her children give up either.
I’ve read Kristin Hannah for many years, and always enjoyed her books. She wrote women’s fiction, stories of women’s lives and friendships and love, and she was good at it. Her books were successful. And then she wrote The Nightingale, rocketed to the top of the NY Times bestseller list, and hasn’t looked back yet. Firefly Lane is now a series on Netflix, The Nightingale movie has been filmed, stars Elle and Dakota Fanning, and is scheduled to be released late this year. I would be surprised if The Four Winds doesn’t end up a film; it is cinematic in scope and a story just begging to be told in a visual medium.
These characters and their story will be with me for a long time. Elsa is a warrior, a mother, and an inspiration. This glimpse into a period of American history is soulful and disturbing and beautifully illustrates the American people’s resilience. Don’t miss it.
2/2021 Stacy Alesi, AKA the BookBitch™
THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah. St. Martin’s Press (February 2, 2021). ISBN: 978-1250178602 . 464 pages.