The Four Winds
February 2021 Indie Next List
— Claudia Maceo, The Twig Book Shop, San Antonio, TX
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"The Bestselling Hardcover Novel of the Year."--Publishers Weekly
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.
Praise For The Four Winds: A Novel…
"The Bestselling Hardcover Novel of the Year."--Publishers Weekly
Book of the Month Club's Best Book of 2021
An Amazon Top 5 Book of the Year
Selected for The Texas Library Association's 2022 Lariat Adult Fiction Reading List
"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.”—The New York Times
"A spectacular tour de force that shines a spotlight on the indispensable but often overlooked role of Greatest Generation women."—People
"Epic and transporting, a stirring story of hardship and love...Majestic and absorbing."—USA Today
"Through one woman’s survival during the harsh and haunting Dust Bowl, master storyteller, Kristin Hannah, reminds us that the human heart and our Earth are as tough, yet as fragile, asa change in the wind. This mother’s soul, suffering the same drought as the land, attempts to cross deserts and beat starvation to save her children with a fierce inner strength called motherhood. A timely novel highlighting the worth and delicate nature of Nature itself." —Delia Owens, author of WHERE THE CRAWDADS SING
"A powerful, stirring, wind-swept tale set in Depression-era America that makes your heart break and soar in equal measure. An escape into the past with timely echoes to the present. Kristin Hannah is a classic storyteller and The Four Winds sees her at the top of her game.” -- MATT HAIG, New York Times bestselling author of THE MIDNIGHT LIBRARY
"Wow. I have been left with a bursting heart. Prepare to go on a journey. The story of Elsa and her family will sweep you up on its wings and plunge you to the depths of feeling. This novel is crucial for our times: although set during the Great Depression and the terrible dust bowls, it holds up a mirror to our current world and asks us to look and to understand deeply. It is a story of migration, poverty, prejudice - it shines a light on a crisis that is all too real in today’s world. Yet, it is also a story of love, family, unbreakable bonds, bravery and hope. I will never forget the characters, what they endured and how they hoped and loved. I feel that I will be forever touched by them. I loved this book so much!" --Christy Lefteri, author of THE BEEKEEPER OF ALEPPO
"The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is a captivating, heartbreaking tale of a family who will do anything for each other — and everything to survive. The strength of Hannah’s prose brings the characters to life in a way that will make you unable to tear yourself away from them. You will celebrate their triumphs, mourn their tragedies, and commend their bravery.
Through it all, it is easy to feel Hannah’s desire to honor those who lived and fought through this devastating time in history. The Four Winds is also an ode to the strength and ferocity of mothers, and a declaration that sometimes, love is the only thing that holds us together.
Above all else, The Four Winds is merely a really good story, one that hits you in all the right places and will keep surprising you until the end."—Associated Press
"One woman’s journey exemplifies the hard choices families faced when confronted with survival versus a sense of home."—GoodMorningAmerica.com
"Hannah brings Dust Bowl migration to life in this riveting story of love, courage, and sacrifice...combines gritty realism with emotionally rich characters and lyrical prose that rings brightly and true from the first line"— Publishers Weekly (starred review)
"Outstanding.... [A] rich, rewarding read about family ties, perseverance, and women's friendships and fortitude." — Booklist (starred review)
"The Four Winds is a sweeping epic about an American struggling to keep her family afloat. It feels eerily timely as it highlights the ways women rally during a national crisis."—Real Simple
"A heartbreaking but beautiful story of sacrifice, courage, love, and hope. Grab the tissues."—The Skimm
St. Martin's Press, 9781250178602, 464pp.
Publication Date: February 2, 2021
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. “Hope is a coin I carry. . . . There were times in my journey when it felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” (page 1) What is the significance of the fact that it is an American penny? In what ways does hope anchor us in the moment, and in what ways does it push us forward? Do you or your family have any keepsakes that represent your family’s hope for the future?
2. “But we women of the Great Plains worked from sunup to sundown, too, toiled on wheat farms until we were as dry and baked as the land we loved.” (page 1) The stories of women have largely gone undocumented throughout history, and this era is no different. It is changing, slowly, and women’s courage and determination and victories are being brought to light. How are women’s stories different? Why do you think they’ve gone unreported for so long? Do you think sharing these stories will make a difference to future generations?
3. Life was very different for unmarried young women in earlier generations. Expectations for their future were sharply defined. How is Elsa shaped by these expectations and her failure to meet them? Do you think it would have been the same for her in New York City? Did you feel compressed by expectation when you were growing up? Do you think these societal mores were designed to keep women “in their place”? How difficult is it to defy both family and society in a small town?
4. “She wished she’d never read The Age of Innocence. What good came from all this unexpressed longing? She would never fall in love, never have a child of her own.” (page 8) Literature is, quite honestly, the opening of a door. Through that door, Elsa saw whole other lives, other futures. What books influenced you when you were growing up? Did any novel and/or character change your perception of either yourself or the world? Did you identify with Elsa and her journey throughout this book? In what way?
5. “She had to believe there was grit in her, even if it had never been tested or revealed.” (page 9) This sentence highlights Elsa’s essentially hopeful nature, even though she doesn’t believe in herself. Her family and her world have pared her down to inconsequence. Does this idea resonate with you? Have you seen it at work in other people? In yourself?
6. In 1920s America, there was significant prejudice against Italians; we see that prejudice in Elsa’s own family. What does Rafe represent to Elsa on the night they meet? Is it simply sex and loneliness? Or do you think there’s something deeper involved? Another small defiance against her parents’ small-mindedness? What does it say about Elsa that she went with Rafe so willingly?
7. “My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family. We plant, we tend, we harvest. I make wine from grape cuttings that I brought here from Sicily, and the wine I make reminds me of my father. It binds us, one to another, as it has for generations. Now it will bind you to us.” (page 51) How are people connected to the land that they occupy? What about the land they farm? Describe that unique and complicated connection.
8. Motherhood changes Elsa in almost every way. What does she learn by becoming a mother? What does she learn about motherhood from Rose? How does motherhood strengthen a woman? How does it weaken her? How does Elsa remain “herself” after giving birth? How does she change?
9. Few things can break a woman’s heart like motherhood. “Elsa grieved daily for the loss of that closeness with her firstborn. At first she’d tried to scale the walls of her daughter’s adolescent, irrational anger; she’d volleyed back with words of love, but Loreda’s continuing, thriving impatience with Elsa had done worse than grind her down. It had resurrected all the insecurities of childhood.” (page 66) If you’re a parent, did this passage resonate with you? Why?
10. The adolescent years can be especially difficult on mothers and daughters. Did you dislike Loreda during these years? Did you understand her?
11. “Tony and Rose were the kind of people who expected life to be hard and had become tougher to survive. . . . They might have come off the boat as Anthony and Rosalba, but hard work and the land had turned them into Tony and Rose. Americans. They would die of thirst and hunger before they’d give that up.” (page 76) Do you think this attitude is a common thread in those who across generations have come to chase the “American Dream”? Why is land so important to that dream? How does one “become American”?
12. There is a strong thread running through this novel about man’s connection to the land. During the Dust Bowl, while many families went west in search of work and a better life, most of them stayed behind on their parched farms. Why do you think that is?
13. What bonds Loreda and her father? What dreams do they share? Do they intend to exclude Elsa, whom they perceive as just a workhorse? Or is she partially to blame for being ostracized? How does her lack of self-esteem color her relationships with her husband and eldest child?
14. What do you think about Rafe? Was he as trapped by his family’s expectations as Elsa had been by her own? Did you expect him to leave?
15. How would you describe the Texas landscape the author paints? With its dust storms and earth dry and zigzag cracked, is it like any you’ve known?
16. “Even if they didn’t speak of their love, or share their feelings in long, heartfelt conversations, the bond was there. Sturdy. They’d sewn their lives together in the silent way of women unused to conversation. Day after day, they worked together, prayed together, held their growing family together through the hardships of farm life.” (page 90–91) Do you share a similar bond with the women in your life—either as a mother, a daughter, or a daughter-in-law? With your friends? Why do you think female bonding is so important to women?
17. Why does Rafe leave and what is he chasing out west? Do you have sympathy for how broken he felt by the poverty and hardship? Should Elsa have agreed to go with him? How does Elsa aim to fill his void, and why does she believe she loves him even after the abandonment?
18. Why does the Martinelli family stay under such brutal conditions—the heat, the dust storms, the lack of food, and the dying livestock? Does it reveal anything about the grit that literally fills their bodies? What choices do they have, and what might you have done during the drought? Were you surprised that Elsa set off without her in-laws? Would you have had the courage to do the same?
19. How have the Dust Bowl and “going west” been treated by the American imagination (perhaps in song or cinema)? What has been glamorized, and what grittiness has been left out or effectively captured? Elsa compares them to the early pioneers in their covered wagons. Is that an accurate comparison?
20. Life in California is not at all what the migrants expected, what advertisements had led them to believe. The locals treat them badly, are afraid of them. Why is that? How does the treatment of migrants in California during the Great Depression mirror the treatment of immigrants today? How is it the same? How is it different?
21. How do Elsa and her family remain unbroken even while enduring crippling poverty, food and shelter insecurity, and living in a town that is hostile to them? Would they have fared better in Texas?
22. What do Jack and the Communist union organizers offer the migrant workers, and Loreda in particular? Why is it a risk to associate with them and what is Elsa’s hesitation?
23. In the 1930s, communism and socialism were on the rise, partially in response to the grinding poverty, joblessness, and despair. The Communists claimed that “communism is the new Americanism.” Can you understand why people believed in that? What do we know now that people didn’t know then? How do you think these perceptions have changed over time?
24. Discuss the shift in thinking that happens between generations—the freedoms longed for and the sacrifices required. The Greatest Generation was shaped by the Great Depression and World War II. They willingly sacrificed for each other and did what they could to help. How is the modern world different? How do we face our own dark times?
25. How does the Great Depression setting of The Four Winds compare to America during the pandemic? What lessons of resilience and healing might be embedded in this story? How might others’ struggles inspire us? Do you have any family stories from the Depression?
26. They say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. During the COVID19 pandemic, Americans were faced with many of the same challenges of the Great Depression. Did we learn from previous generations? What differences can you see in the two difficult times? What similarities? How do you think future generations will judge the America of today?
27. “Courage is fear you ignore.” Discuss this. How do Elsa’s and Loreda’s actions embody this idea?
28. Fighting for any kind of social equality or radical change often requires great personal sacrifice. How does Elsa represent the courage it takes to stand up and make trouble and be counted?
29. Why was it so important for Loreda to get her mother back to Texas, even if at such a high cost? How did she finally come to understand her mother and her choices through a new lens?
30. Did you find the end of Elsa’s and her family’s journey satisfying? Where do you think Ant and Loreda ended up? How do you see Loreda’s life being like her mother’s? How will it be different?