The Four Winds
Review: Karen Watkins
This epic story of a simple American migrant family during the harrowing droughts of the 1930s begins in 1921 on the eve of Elsa Wolcott’s 25th birthday.
Her parents and sisters reject her for being sickly and unattractive – too tall, too thin, too pale. No wonder she has no self-esteem. But she has dreams.
Inspired by the erotic novel Fanny Hill, Elsa sews a red dress that shows her knees. Wearing the dress and make-up, despite being forbidden by her family, she storms off in search of a night of romantic adventure.
And she finds it in tall, handsome Raffaello “Rafe” Martinelli, the son of migrant Italian farmers.
Their single night of abandon leads to pregnancy and a forced marriage – not a happy one – living with Rafe’s parents on a farm on the Great Plains.
Elsa’s world is shattered when Rafe leaves her and their headstrong daughter Loreda and adorable son Ant.
Unable to earn a living or cope with the drought many farmers face the choice of rethinking their farming methods or facing starvation.
Fearful of the future, Elsa sets out to California in search of a better life for her and her children. But things turn out to be even worse.
As Elsa faces dust storms, floods, homelessness, hunger riots, poverty, union busting, bigotry, violent thugs and the misery of migrant labour, she displays an iron core of character and courage.
It is against this backdrop that Elsa’s love and strength emerge as she tackles social issues of workers’ rights and unchecked capitalism and greed.
Climate change comes to mind when reading this book. For me it was a heavy read after the author’s previous poignant thriller, Wild, a riveting read that I thoroughly enjoyed and recommended and could not put down.
This book was too long and sometimes repetitive.
And yet followers of this bestselling author who has published 24 novels in 30 years and sold multi-million copies will admire her versatility, the depth of research and the inspiration we can take from what the female characters go through to survive.