Thursday, July 29, 2021

The Four Winds

  The Four Winds
Author:  Kristin Hannah
Publication Information:  St. Martin's Press. 2021. 464 pages.
ISBN:  1250178606 / 978-1250178602

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Hope is a coin I carry: an American penny, given to me by a man I came to love."

Favorite Quote:  "My grandfather was a Texas Ranger. He used to tell me that courage was a lie. It was just fear that you ignored."

The Four Winds is a story of the Depression. It is a story of the dust bowl. It is a story of being an immigrant in one's own homeland. It is a story of being made to feel the other. It is a story of poverty. It is a story of unionization. It is a story of prejudice. It is a story of the elusive American Dream. "The four winds have blown us here, people from all across the country, to the very edge of this great land, and now, at last, we make our stand, fight for what we know to be right. We fight for our American dream, that it will be possible again."

Through it all, this book is the story of one girl - Elsa Wolcott - who is forced to grow up way too soon and whose struggles reach far beyond what she could ever have imagined. An unplanned pregnancy leads to a quick, too-young wedding. A marriage leads to the love of a family but also to responsibilities born alone. Poverty and desperation and the love of children leads to an unimaginable journey in search of a better life. The better life proves elusive, and the struggle continues. That is the plot of Elsa Wolcott's story.

The real story is the woman Elsa becomes, facing challenge after challenge:
  • "She'd learned how to disappear in place long ago. She was like one of those animals whose defense mechanism, was to blend into the landscape and become invisible. It was her way of dealing with rejection: Say nothing and disappear. Never fight back."
  • " turned out that a parent's disapproval was a powerful, lingering voice that shaped and defined one's self-image."
  • "Poverty was a soul-crushing thing. A cave that tightened around your, its pinprick of light closing a little more at the end of each desperate, unchanged day."
  • "Survival took grit and courage and effort. It was too easy to give in. No matter how afraid she was, she had to teach her children every day  how to survive."
Beyond the personal story, the bigger story is the history of this nation - the depths of the Depression and the Dust Bowl and, even more so, the depth of prejudice and hate that turns American against American. Oddly (because I do not know if it is historically accurate), the book takes a turn beyond unionization and towards communisms as a solution which is jarring and, to me, unneeded. Elsa's story is enough without that political addition. That being said, the conversations about poverty, inequity, and discrimination are timely. Although written about the 1930s, some of these conversations continue today even amidst the current prosperity of this nation.

The emotions and images of this book are powerful ones. The ending, when it comes, is shocking yet not surprising. It leaves a strong exclamation point on the story with lessons if we choose to remember. Elsa Wolcott is a memorable character, and the book is one that will stay with me for a long while.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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