Title: The Four Winds (review copy)
Author: Kristin Hannah
Genre/Themes: Historical Fiction, Dust Bowl USA, Great Depression USA
Blurb from Goodreads
Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods. The crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all.
In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonising choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life.
The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American Dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman who will discover the best in herself in the worst of times.
The Four Winds is an historical fiction focusing on the Dust Bowl and Great Depression era in the United States of America. It is a time I know nothing about and thusly I was curious to read a novel that would hopefully bring alive this moment in history for me.
And that it certainly did.
I immediately found myself empathising with lead character Elsa. Her story was incredibly moving; a young woman unappreciated and forgotten by her family and so desperate for love. I’ll freely admit that tears flowed down my cheeks as I read the early part of her life story.
However, in contrast to Elsa I was entirely frustrated by her young daughter Loreda. I appreciate that she was going through those difficult teenage years when it is common for children to find fault with their parents… but gosh it was excessive!
And I think that is my issue with the whole novel. Excessiveness. The tension in the novel was palpable which is a great skill of writing. It was implicitly clear to see the struggles of Elsa and her children. Every day was indeed a matter of life and death… but as a reader I needed more moments of respite.
This was unrelentingly tense.
It was stressful to read and by half way through the novel I was ready for it to be over. Elsa was always so restrained and accepting of fate, and Loreda was always so combative. It was exhausting reading the same conversations and arguments these two characters had over and over and over and over again. There needed to be more light and shade, and a whole lot less repetition.
I don’t mean to say that the harsh realities of the time should have been shrouded over in any way, but the personalities of the main characters needed to be less one dimensional. I needed more emotion than stoicism and anger. I needed moments where the characters were more than just reactionary.
And as for the climax of the novel… it felt melodramatic to me. It also felt entirely predictable, and emotionally manipulative. I think that I was meant to cry and feel hugely emotional at how the novel ended… but I rolled my eyes instead as it felt like a giant cliche to me. Ooops!
I believe a lot of my issues with this novel are purely down to personal taste. This is my third Kristin Hannah novel and I’ve had mixed reactions to her writing in the past. I did enjoy The Great Alone and rated that four stars but I rated her most famous novel The Nightingale only two… Everyone I know who has read l The Nightingale absolutely adored it… whereas I was left feeling strangely cold. In quite a similar fashion to how I feel with this book.
I really do appreciate the level of research that goes into Hannah’s historical fiction. She certainly seems to write with an intimate knowledge of this Dust Bowl and Great Depression era which did help the book to come alive for me. But for me her characters and plots ultimately just fall flat.
I’m not sure if Hannah is an author I will return to in the future. I can certainly see how she is beloved by so many readers but I guess I’m an outlier on this occasion.
Recommend to fans of detailed American historical fiction.
*An e-copy of this book was kindly provided to me by the publisher via NetGalley. This review contains my honest thoughts and opinions*
Publishing 2nd February 2021, Pan Macmillan