The four winds by Kristin Hannah

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If you have ever seen Dorothea Lange’s photographs of the Great Depression of the 1930s, particularly ‘Migrant mother’, you will know what this book is about. It was a time of drought, dust-bowl conditions, hardship, and unemployment; families uprooted and constantly on the move, starving, and searching for work.

Hannah’s novel begins with the story of Elsa as a young woman, plain and unloved; then a moment of rebelliousness sees her scorned by her family and married off, pregnant, to Rafe, a young Italian man; joining with his parents in the hard toil of working the land.

In the 1930’s, Oklahoma suffered year after year of drought and stifling dust storms that induced dust pneumonia; people with eyes turning red, short of breath and coughing up mud. Elsa, deserted by her husband, has to face the decision of staying on the land, the only true home she has known, or venturing out with two children to seek a better future elsewhere, amidst hordes of homeless people also hungry for some kind of work.

Hannah’s novel vividly describes the suffering and misery of that era, with desperate itinerant workers abused and vilified by their own countrymen. It is a story of epic proportions, and recounts the battle between cotton magnates and the disposable workers, communism, and the workers’ rights movement. But at the heart of the novel, is the relationship between Elsa and her daughter Loreda, changing from resentment and bitter antagonism, to the girl’s gradual appreciation of the strength and commitment of her mother.

It is in the end a heart-warming story of women, of finding inner strength and standing up for beliefs, with the addition of a pleasing thread of romance.

Themes: Women, Courage, Great Depression, Drought, Dust, Workers' rights, Exploitation.

Helen Eddy