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The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is an important book for our current times. Though it is set during the Great Depression and the Dust Bowls of the Midwest, there are many parallels to life today. So much so, that I find myself thinking back to the book when I am conversations with people about current events.
This story centers around Elsa and her children and their fight for survival. First by braving the devastation of the dust bowls and then by facing the challenges of migrating to California, the “land of milk and honey,” all with the constant worry of money and how they are going to eat.
The climate crisis of the dust bowls forcing the farmers to abandon their land after decades of poor land management echoes through the years to today. Their entire life had to be left behind so they could be afforded hope. They left the safety of what they knew for what they hoped would be a better future. They knew that by staying, they could quite literally die, and many did.
Living in the Midwest, I had heard of the Dust Bowls, but I didn’t comprehend the complete devastation and the many ecological and health impacts it had over large swatches of the country. People from “the four winds” traveled west to try to escape the gritty storms that would sometimes last for days. Caused by a severe drought and poor land management practices, the storms swirled dirt and dust that got in people’s eyes, caking them to the point they were blinded, got into their lungs, which caused pneumonia, and killed everything they tried to grow.
Through the experiences of Elsa and her family, I was able to learn about the terrible storms that ravaged the area and about some of the experiences of people who lived through them and the Great Depression. Elsa also showed me the agonizing decisions people had to make in order to survive and to keep their children alive. The author showed me, through Elsa, the pain and challenges of landing in California and what it was like for the people who left everything behind in search of hope.
- What do you know about the Dust Bowls in the 30s?
- How does this story help you understand life during that time?
- What parallels do you find between the challenges in the book and the challenges faced today?
- How do the decisions made by Elsa and the other characters in this story affect you?
- Which decisions do you most relate to?
Get more in-depth discussion questions for The Four Winds here! There may be spoilers.
This book is the second I’ve read by Kristin Hannah and the second I have loved. I think it is safe to say I am a fan. In both this book and The Nightingale, she writes about strong women facing difficult, life threatening decisions. I recommend both books.