THE FOUR WINDS by Kristin Hannah is the story of one family’s desperate attempt to survive the Dust Bowl in the midst of overwhelming odds.
Elsa Martinelli has not had an easy life – rejected as a child, and later as an adult, she finds solace and acceptance from Rosa and Tony Martinelli, her husband Rafe’s parents. As the Depression leads into the Dust Bowl of the 1930’s, Elsa, Rosa, and Tony fight to save the family farm in the Texas panhandle, while Rafe, a dreamer, has little to contribute other than fathering their two children, a daughter Loreda and a son Anthony (Ant).
After Ant contracts dust pneumonia, Elsa packs up the pickup truck with their meager belongings and heads to California with Loreda (now a rebellious teen) and Ant (seven, and cloyingly sweet), accompanied by hundreds of thousands of other migrants. At first, Elsa and the children are buoyed by the hopes of a fresh start but they are soon confronted with prejudice, cruelty, and untenable living conditions. Elsa and the children are forced to settle in a migrant tent camp and spend long hours in the fields picking cotton.
It’s hard to write about the Dust Bowl without tipping over into melodrama, and at times it felt as if the only thing moving the story forward was the next disaster. The relationships between the women in THE FOUR WINDS kept me invested. Elsa is a bit of a sad-sack, but her daughter Loreda is fierce and as she ages, she challenges Elsa to overcome her fears. Elsa’s friendship with Jean, another mother in the camp, felt authentic. Jean teaches Elsa the ropes – instructing her to apply for relief upon her arrival (though it will be a year before she qualifies for any assistance), and advising her about the best paid jobs. When Jean goes into labor with her last child, it is Elsa who drives her to the hospital – and back to the camp when they refuse to admit her, where her baby dies in Elsa’s arms. Like the dust of the plains, there seems no end to the heartache these women must endure. Poverty, hunger, prejudice, and disease plague the migrants, and just when you think it can’t get worse, it does.
Elsa’s story is a painful one, but she shares something in common with many women: she wants nothing more than a better future for her children, a livable wage, and a safe place to live. Fans of historical fiction and of Kristin Hannah’s other formidable female characters will most likely not be disappointed.
This is Lin Salisbury with Superior Reviews.