Even the most timid possess a cache of courage

Kristin Hannah

The Four Winds: A Novel

St. Martin’s Press

Hardcover (also available as an e-book, an audiobook, and on audio CD), 978-1-2501-7860-2, 464 pgs., $28.99

February 2, 2021


“It’s not weak, you know. To feel things deeply, to want things. To need.”


Hardship and adversity have a way of teasing out strengths and convictions that prove we can endure and even succeed against seemingly insurmountable odds.


In 1921, twenty-five-year-old Elsa Wolcott still lives with her wealthy parents in Dalhart in the Texas Panhandle. Elsa has been mostly ignored by her family after recovering from a childhood illness, convinced that she will always be too weak to be of any use and that she is too tall and plain to ever attract a husband. Elsa remains invisible and biddable in the family home until an act of defiance sets her on a course that will test her mettle and unearth the courage to survive, protect, explore, and advocate.


When Elsa falls for a younger man of Italian decent, her parents disown their ruined daughter and insist she marry Rafe and live with his parents, Tony and Rose Martinelli. Rafe tries hard to be a good husband and father, but the Great Depression and the increasing dust storms strip any hope for a future on the family’s dried-up wheat farm and push him into looking for greener pastures. Elsa’s two surviving children, headstrong Loreda and sweet-natured Anthony, are her world, and when dust pneumonia almost kills her eight-year-old son, she makes the difficult decision to leave the land she loves and head to California, the land of milk and honey and opportunity for everyone.


Many authors, such as John Steinbeck, have penned stories about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl and subsequent migration, and Kristin Hannah has achieved a well-earned place among such prestigious authors. The Four Winds dives into Elsa Martinelli’s internal journey of bravery and finding her voice as well as her external journey with her children to a place that treats migrants as unequal and unworthy of even the most basic human dignity. “When times is tough and jobs is scarce, folks blame the outsider. It’s human nature.”


Elsa and her children end up in a tent camp along the banks of a ditch filled with dirty water near the town of Welty, California. The Four Winds highlights the distressing reality of a country beleaguered by changing socioeconomic conditions and the chasm separating the wealthy from the poor, who simply want a better life and a better future for their children.


For readers with an eye on both past and present discrimination, The Four Winds will provoke thought and incite ire because of the accurate depiction of prejudice and disregard for human life that still resonate today. While Elsa has often felt the sting of rejection, nothing prepares her for the dehumanizing treatment that impoverished migrants receive in their own country. When communist and unionizer Jack Valen steps in, Elsa finds herself reluctantly moving beyond living on the dole and suffocating under a blanket of debt owed to a wealthy cotton grower who has no problem treating American migrants as replaceable picking machines.


Kristin Hannah’s breathtaking prose will immerse the reader deep into Elsa’s life and heart as she maneuvers the pitfalls of exclusion and despair as well as the joys of hope and a mother’s unequivocal love. For most of the story, Elsa’s voice remains somewhat silent, and her wings stay tucked away until she rushes headlong into an epic battle of survival and the need to protect her children and their future at all costs, unfurling the dormant ability to speak out and fly in the face of injustice when enough finally becomes enough. Even the most timid possess a cache of courage that waits for its moment to shine, even if that moment is fraught with more deprivation and danger amidst the optimism and promise of progress.


Kristin Hannah is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of more than twenty novels, including The Nightingale, The Great Alone, and The Four Winds. A former lawyer turned writer, she lives with her husband in the Pacific Northwest.