Notable Novels: Kristin Hannah takes readers back in time in “The Four Winds”


Photo Courtesy/ YouTube Matthew Schaefer

One of this year’s most anticipated novels is “The Four Winds” by Kristin Hannah, published on Feb. 2. A compelling read that is both historical and timely, this epic novel allows readers to explore the similarities between the Great Depression and modern life. 

The story begins in Texas in 1921.  Twenty-five-year-old Elsa is considered an old maid, looked upon with pity by her family and community as someone too unattractive to ever be a wife. After sewing herself an above-the-knee red dress, she darts out on the town and has her first romantic adventure, a one-night stand with a young man named Rafe. To everyone’s shock, Elsa learns that she is pregnant and her family disowns her. Rafe’s family takes her in, and he quickly, though reluctantly, marries her.  

At first they live comfortably, working on Rafe’s family farm and raising their two children. Elsa’s relationship with Rafe is not one of love, passion or romance. Her relationship with their daughter, Loreda, grows strained as she blossoms into an adolescent, and the novel fast-forwards to 1934, in the thick of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. The family experiences these crises first-hand, leaving their beloved farm in ruins. After a disastrous, deadly dust storm sweeps through their town, Elsa decides to take her children to California in hopes of a better life and cleaner air, only to endure far worse than they had imagined.   

Some primary themes are the delicate relationship between mothers and daughters and the challenges many Americans face — lack of income and a struggle to find work while attempting to achieve the “American dream.” The dynamics between Loreda and Elsa may be relatable to many readers — the see-sawing between respect and despisement, with love sprinkled throughout the course of the book. The struggles with inequities of how people are treated based on their class or race (Elsa and her family are disparagingly referred to as “Okies” because they were refugees, even though they weren’t from Oklahoma), environmental devastation and economic collapse depict a country in crisis, are challenges not terribly different from those people still face today.

Hannah’s novel is an epic 464 pages with such specific detail that you can practically taste and feel the dust on your tongue. “The Four Winds” is the February 2021 pick for TODAY’s ‘Read with Jenna’ book club.