Book Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds
Kristin Hannah

Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I’ve always liked stories of endurance and standing up for what is right. I also like sagas and historical fiction and The Four Winds checks all these boxes. The story is set in the Texas Panhandle in the 1920s and 30s, during the Great Depression, years of drought and continuous dust storms, and later in California during the great migration west. Throughout these hardships, Elsa Wolcott undergoes a transformation and discovers the strength she needs to protect and provide for her family.

Before this, Elsa has only known a life of seclusion. At fourteen, she contracted rheumatic fever and doctors tell her she has a weak heart. Her father’s prosperous business has ensured that the family lives well, but because of her condition, Elsa’s parents declare her unmarriageable. Besides, who would want a woman like her, overly tall, with thin and colorless hair and so unlike her pretty sisters?

Now, at twenty-five, Elsa knows she must do something to change her life. She takes the advice her Texas ranger grandfather. “Don’t worry about dying, Elsa. Worry about not living. Be brave,” he told her before he died. A period of rebellion leaves Elsa pregnant by an Italian boy named Rafe Martinelli. Upon hearing the news, her parents disown her and she must begin a life with Rafe’s farming family.

One of the reasons I like sagas is because I like reading about how events and the characters change over time, so I’m not going to describe what happens next. But you can be sure that the author includes plenty of developments to keep you interested, especially with the historical backdrop of extreme hardship. Hannah includes themes of the American Dream, perseverance, heroism, love and family countered by the Martinelli’s and other families’ stubbornness about leaving Texas. How can you give up on the land that provided for you?

I liked this book. It’s very readable, but it’s hard not to compare it to The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I don’t think there is any book that better describes the plight of dust bowl farmers and the migration to California during the Great Depression. When The Grapes of Wrath was published, Steinbeck said, “I’ve done my damndest to rip a reader’s nerves to rags.” He put heart and soul into expressing his outrage over the treatment of these poor migrant farm workers and he did it with vivid descriptions and powerful characters. It’s a tall order to write another story as powerful as his.

That said, I am fascinated by this period of American history and the resolve of those who lost their farms and traveled west for a better life. I’d call The Four Winds a light version of a similar story.

Click here for a review of The Grapes of Wrath and stay tuned for a post about the Great Depression and the western migration.

Thanks for visiting—come back soon!

Like Kristin Hannah’s books? Check out this review of The Great Alone.

36 thoughts on “Book Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

  1. Hi, “Mom” – I finally want to tell you that I get your book review
    always twice. Even at the same time. Please check! Giselle Roeder

    1. Hi Giselle – check your subscriptions. It’s possible you’ve subscribed twice from two different emails or sites. I’m glad you’re receiving my posts, though!

  2. I knew Kristin Hannah’s name sounded familiar when I clicked on your post. Back in early 2021, I read The Four Winds and bookmarked a page with this quote: Prologue: “Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love.” I like her work for all the reasons you state. Thanks, Barb! 😀

    1. Hi Marian – I’m glad you made the connection! Yes, the coin is one of the symbols of hope that the characters carry with them. Thank you for the visit. I hope you are doing well 🙂

  3. Sounds like a good read! Thanks for the review. Hard to beat a classic and maybe we shouldn’t even compare but if you like the era, it would be worth reading both.

    1. Hi Darlene – I know, it may be unfair to compare it to The Grapes of Wrath, but it’s impossible not to. I thought it was very enjoyable, though. Thanks for the visit!

    1. Hi Jill! Yes, I’ve read three of her books, Firefly, The Great Alone and this. I enjoyed them all, especially The Great Alone. Thanks for the visit!

  4. The Grapes of Wrath is such a powerful read, Barb. Thank you for sharing that quote from Steinbeck. To me, that adds even more to an already brilliant story.
    I haven’t read Four Winds but have greatly enjoyed other books by Kristin Hannah.

    1. Hi Donna, thanks for stopping by. Just got back from a trip so I’m catching up. I am so moved by The Grapes of Wrath every time I read it. I also enjoyed The Four Winds and other books by Kristin Hannah. She’s very readable. Thanks so much for the visit!

  5. I really like Kristen Hannah’s writing and have read most of her books – her earlier women’s fiction, and then her later more contemporary (and more literary?) fiction. But this one I didn’t read, because reviewers and friends have mentioned how dark and sad it is. At this point, I don’t need dark and sad. I prefer a book that shows some light in the gloom. ;-0 Perhaps that makes me a bad reader, but reading is therapy for me, as well as a way to educate myself, and to learn how to write well.

    1. Hi Pam – all good reasons to pass on this one. I’ve only read two other books by Kristin Hannah (Firefly years ago and more recently, The Great Alone). I liked The Great Alone and thought it was better than this one. I agree that The Four Winds has many pages that are dark and sad. Thank you for the visit 🙂

    1. I read it on a plane (2 trips) and it passed the time, hence the 3.5 stars. I did enjoy it, but I understand your comment. It’s hard not to compare it to The Grapes of Wrath. Definitely a light version. Thanks for the visit 🙂

  6. Great review, Barbara. I began reading this, but I didn’t finish it for the reason Pam mentioned. I think at the time, it was just too heart-wrenching for me to continue. But I kept it and will return someday. I haven’t read any other books of hers, so I’ll check them out because I do like her writing. Thanks for sharing.

    1. Hi Ann! Thanks for stopping by – I like reading about this time period so it was on my list. Definitely lighter than Grapes of Wrath, but very enjoyable.

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