The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I had finished a nice-enough book and was looking for the next good read. My wife chose from my list for me and picked this one. She chose well.
»Books had always been her solace; novels gave her the space to be bold, brave, beautiful, if only in her own imagination.«
This book drew me in, chewed me up and spit me out.
If a book really “speaks” to me, I step into it. I stop being a reader and become a silent, helpless bystander, a powerless observer.
Give me a book that’s well-written, serious and empathetic and I’m in trouble.
Elsa lives in Texas during the Great Depression. Cast out by her own parents for “dishonoring” them (by conceiving a child without being married), she is forced to marry her child’s father and live on his family’s farm.
»Elsa had discovered within herself a nearly bottomless capacity for love.«
Against everyone’s expectations – hers not the least – she not only settles in but learns to love her new life. Until the circumstances force her to flee – with now two children and without the father who has left the family – to an uncertain future in California.
»I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clad, ill-nourished.… The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little. —FRANKLIN D. ROOSEVELT«
We witness how Elsa, her parents-in-law (whom she comes to love more than her birth parents) and her children struggle. This book breathes life into history; almost a hundred years later it makes you see and feel how harsh life must have been.
»A fifty-foot zigzagging crevasse opened in the yard. Dead roots stuck out from the crumbling dirt sides like skeletal hands.«
In fact, the entire first quarter of the book was outright painful for me. Almost overwhelmingly so. “The Four Winds” is so carefully, almost tenderly written, that Elsa’s emotions, her pain, actually reached me. I felt those emotions and the experience was stunning. Especially when things turned from bleak to worse.
I wanted to quit, to drop this book, to get away from all that and just before actually quitting things at least changed. No god, no fate, no destiny, not a light at the end of the tunnel but there is a certain turning point when things start growing instead of declining.
That’s when I realised those horrifying 25 percent had actually been worth it. There is no simple happily-ever-after for anyone in this book. There’s simply no room for that but what we do get – in spite of a somewhat open ending – is closure.
All the terror and horror we’ve witnessed; deep poverty, catastrophe, death, all kinds of loss, it’s all worth it in the end. Elsa lives life as well as she manages to and rises far beyond her own expectations. Having been an observer of that was very, very exhausting but I still feel deeply affected and grateful for the unique experience.
Kristin Hannah whose “The Nightingale” I loved and whose “The Great Alone” was a great book has managed to write an instant classic. A unique masterpiece that lets you not only experience the Great Depression Era but allows you to draw your own conclusions with respect to even modern economic systems…
And even if you – like me originally – don’t care about the Great Depression (it’s long gone, isn’t it?); this book is worth reading on many levels.
»Courage is fear you ignore.«
“The Four Winds” is easily 2021’s best book and has more than earned its place among my favourite books of all time.
Thank you, Kristin Hannah, for being a literary force of nature.
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The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah