Sometimes, during hard times it is helpful to be reminded that there have been other hard times in our past, some that were even more tragic or more difficult than the ones we are currently going through. In The Four Winds, Hannah reminds us of the catastrophic consequences of the drought and Dust Bowl that followed in the wake of the stock market collapse in 1929 which ushered in the Great Depression.
In 1921, Texas was thriving. Many farmers from the east had been encouraged to come were thriving and families like Elsa Wolcott’s lived comfortable lives. But Elsa, desperately wants to leave her bleak, constrictive life, as a childhood illness has labeled her “delicate,” “weak” and “unfit.” Tall and thin, she also does not fit the image of beauty like her sister, and so she is stuck, living with her parents with marriage being her only option of escape. That is until she meets Rafe Martinelli. Like her, Rafe wants to escape as well, away from the family farm, away from the constant responsibility. Inevitably, however, these two who dreamed of escaping become trapped when Elsa discovers she is pregnant. Disowned by her own family, Elsa is taken to the Martinelli farm and left to face the consequences. Strong Catholics, the Martinelli’s insist that the two get married, and Rafe too is trapped along with Elsa on the farm.
Two children later, Rafe and Elsa and the Martinelli family have settled into their life. Although difficult at first, Elsa and her mother-in-law have now forged a strong bond of mutual respect and love. Elsa, who was always taught to believe she was fragile, has grown strong on the farm and is able to contribute to the family in ways she never thought possible. Rafe, however, still longs to leave, and is often restless and often shares his dreams with their daughter.
Then the rains stop coming. The land that was so productive is now hard and unyielding and soon dust storms come, burying the landscape and causing death and illness in livestock and humans. By 1934, there is not enough food for the whole family and eventually, they must face into a difficult choice; should they leave their farm and look for a life elsewhere or do they stay and face what looks like certain starvation.
Hannah captures the desperation of these times so well. It was often difficult to read about their terrible choices, the bitterness and guilt that Elsa felt, the content stress and anxiety of having enough to eat or a safe place to sleep. The courage of these desperate people who migrated to California, hoping for a better life, is astonishing, and it makes their bitter and insufferable reception in California all the more galling.
Hannah’s characters come to light in the conflicts between Elsa and Rafe and his unmet expectation and dreams, the tenderness between Elsa and her mother-in-law who both need a solid grounded love, and between Elsa and her daughter who blames her mother for all their hardships. Through it all Elsa tries to navigate a new world where the old rules no longer apply.
Which is something we too are learning to do as we emerge from fifteen months of this pandemic.
Brenda’s Rating: **** (4 out of 5 Stars)
Recommend this book to: Marian, Sharon, Keith and Ken
Book Study worthy? Yes
Read in ebook format.