Kristin Hannah – The Four Winds Review
The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah will give the famous novel The Grapes of Wrath a run for its money. As with her other books, this one also portrays a woman who overcomes something in her life and turns out stronger in the end. It is a complex, intricate journey where the main protagonist comes into her own, overcoming the large number of obstacles thrown her way.
Set during the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the mid-west migration to California the book emphasizes the crime of inhumanity to one’s fellow citizen. It shows how nature, literally and figuratively, can be so cruel. Elsa’s story really begins after meeting Rafe. She feels unwanted and unloved by her rich family and decides one night to go on the town in a red dress. Unfortunately, she mistakes his lust for love, becomes pregnant, and is disowned by her family. Rafe’s family takes her in and forces him to marry her. These new parents become the family she never really had. But hard times hit this farming family, and instead of stepping up to the plate, Rafe leaves them.
Now 1934, her youngest son Anthony has “dust pneumonia,” a then-common ailment of the Great Plains. Because of this, Elsa decides to leave her home in Lonesome Tree Texas and move to the fresh air of California. Ending up in the San Joaquin Valley, Elsa, her daughter, Loreda, and her son, trade one set of terrible circumstances for another. Work is scarce, and the locals are prejudiced against “Okies,” as migrants were known regardless of where they are from. The family settles into a camp riddled with filth on the banks of an irrigation ditch. Eventually they end up in the town of Welty, named after the owner of a large farm. She meets Jack, an idealist union organizer who wants the migrants to unite for better wages and working conditions. Falling in love with him, Elsa becomes the migrants’ spokesperson, understanding that she has a voice of power.
This novel will tear at the reader’s heart strings. Whether the scenes during the Dust Bowl, the struggle to survive the Depression, or the challenges the migrant workers faced, people will take a journey with this compelling family. The story is about motherhood, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit. Once again Hannah has hit a home run.
Kristin Hannah – The Four Winds Interview
Elise Cooper: Were you influenced by the Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck?
Kristin Hannah: Obviously I read it and loved the story. I would not say it particularly influenced me except to open me up to that era and experience. I looked at the Dust Bowl, the Depression, and the Mid-West migration to California through a woman’s eyes. As with Steinbeck’s story so much of what we know about that era is that women many times were not in the picture.
EC: Your books focus on a women’s perspective?
KH: I have been on this journey ever since my books Winter Garden and Home Front. I like telling stories that we think we know and eras we think we know but from the female outlook. So often, what is learned about in history is from the male perspective with women stories lost, marginalized, and deemed less important. I wanted to show how important women are and put in this book quote by Elsa, “It was always about the men. They seem to think it meant nothing to cook and clean and bear children. But we worked from sunup to sundown too, toiled on wheat farms…we came to find a better life, to feed our children. We aren’t lazy or shiftless. We don’t want to live the way we do.”
EC: What about this particular novel?
KH: As I traveled around talking to readers about the book, Nightingale, that dealt with the French resistance during WWII, I began to understand how much that book meant to people and the powerful emotions it invoked. Maybe because it is the story that we should have known all along, but many of us didn’t. I wanted to show female courage, heroism, and bravery in the face of difficult and dangerous odds. As time went on, I knew I wanted to write a novel that was just as powerful, emotional, and as important that was an American story. I wanted to look at our own history and country. For whatever reason it led me to the Dust Bowl, the Great Depression, and the migration to the west. Women throughout history have done a lot of amazing stuff.
“My American dream was turned into a nightmare by poverty and hardship and greed. These past few years have been a time of things lost: Jobs. Homes. Food.”The Four Winds Prologue quote
EC: Readers can see a lot of comparisons to today, especially with a quote in the prologue?
KH: You must be referring to this one, “My American dream was turned into a nightmare by poverty and hardship and greed. These past few years have been a time of things lost: Jobs. Homes. Food.” I started this book four years ago and had no idea that it would turn out as relevant for today. There is this sense of being a time lost. I think there is a very strong correlation to be made now. I think history can teach us something. It’s a good reminder now. After reading a story like this, people can relate to how the human spirit has strength and durability with the power of family. Looking back, it’s important to recall that we have been through hard times before in America and not only survived but thrived. If we pull together and look towards the future, we can thrive again. The message of America is to be brave, have courage without fear, and to be a survivor. I think it has been this way for all of our history.
EC: There is also a message about divisiveness?
KH: I am certainly well aware how it is in our country now. For me, it helps to look at the history, what it was like in the 30s, late 60s, and 70s. These were all times of great change in America, which does not come easily when we focus on what divides us instead of what unites us. It is important in history to see how some things continually repeat. We should listen to the past and learn from it. There is a discussion in the book where Elsa faces discrimination, being called “your kind.” Elsa responds, “Our kind are hardworking Americans who have hit hard times, which meant poverty, no jobs, and nowhere to turn.” After arriving in California people would not rent to her because anyone from Oklahoma, Texas, and Arkansas were looked down upon. Nothing is really that simple, cut and dry. It was the depression and people were flooding into California who did not have jobs, money, or a place to live.
EC: The antagonist, Walty, is pure evil?
KH: He is the villain of the novel. He represents big industry that cares more about profits than workers. Ultimately, he never saw how important those workers were to him and to his economic future.
“I don't say I'm no better than anybody else, But I'll be damned if I ain't jist as good!”
EC: In the movie “Oklahoma” there is a song where a line is relevant to your story: “I don’t say I’m no better than anybody else, But I’ll be damned if I ain’t jist as good!” Farmers versus city folk?
KH: I mostly focused on the idea of how people label other as “the other.” People who live in the city don’t understand the farmers’ plight, which can be seen throughout the novel. The whole book is about farmers, people who make their living from the land. They are at the hands of mother nature. As they feed the whole world, they struggle through difficult times.
EC: Women characters are the essence of your story? Let’s begin by talking about Rose, her mother-in-law.
KH: She represents the idealization of the farm wife who can do it all, working from sunup to sundown. She believes in her land and family, focusing on who she is feeding and loving. She is always there for her family in a pinch.
EC: What about Elsa?
KH: After writing 24 novels, Elsa is my favorite character ever. In the beginning she was an outsider and lonely. She had a journey from an insecure woman who believed she had no self-worth and will never be loved, to gaining enough strength to be a warrior. She finds her independent and powerful voice to help others. For me, this was so moving. No matter how many times she was knocked down she got back up and tried again.
EC: How did her early upbringing affect her personality including having rheumatic fever?
KH: Her illness was the reason her family clipped her wings, keeping her expectations low. She had to let go of it. She never defined herself from her illness. Elsa says in the beginning of the book her real problem was not her illness, but that her family found her lacking because she was not pretty enough. In the end, she decided to take risks to improve her life, instead of sitting back and letting it happen.
EC: What about the daughter, Loreda?
KH: She represented the next generation who saw the world as a different place. In the beginning of the story, she was an ordinary, spoiled adolescent girl going through a difficult time. She was a romantic idealist who was very passionate. I would compare her to the Isabelle character from The Nightingale in the sense it is easier to take big risks when not responsible for anyone else’s life.
EC: What about Elsa’s husband, Rafe, versus her lover, Jack?
KH: After meeting her future husband Rafe it seemed like the worst thing that could happen to Elsa, but it was actually the best thing that happened to her. She became a wife, a mother, and part of a loving family. Her love for Rafe was defined by a lack of love for herself. He was a weak man and a dreamer at a point when the world had no place for someone without the strength to stand up.
Jack became the great love of Elsa’s life. He showed her the power of passion, both physically and ideologically. He helped her to unlock something within herself. With his unfettered idealism he looked through a lens of what he wanted the world to be and lost focus on how dangerous the real world was. Elsa knew this from the moment she chose to be with Jack.
EC: It is a story of motherhood?
KH: Yes, how women find themselves and stand up for each other during really hard times. The strength from Rose allowed Elsa to become the woman she became. Elsa and then Loreda went through what we all go through, leaving behind girlhood and discovering who they were as people. I love this line in the story, “You are the daughter I always wanted. Elsa replied And you are my mother. You saved me.”
EC: The quotes at the beginning of each section?
KH: I chose Wendell Berry because he was a poet I happen to love. He writes about nature and the land, so I thought the quote chosen was a good connection to the Dust Bowl section. The FDR quote was chosen because of what he did during the Great Depression, trying to pull the country together. Cesar Chavez’s quote was perfect about workers in California.
EC: What about your next projects?
KH: The Nightingale might come out on the big screen but is due out in December 2021. Firefly Lane was out on Netflix on February 3rd. I am very happy with the production of both. The cast of both are wonderful. I did read the scripts and talked to the producers throughout. I love seeing these big women stories on screen.
Welcome to this week’s Friday56 and Book Beginnings on Fridays!
Happy Friday !
May your books be with you!
Luv Sassy X