Minor spoilers ahead.
There are times when a character in a book stares at you, right into your soul, and you know without an inkling of a doubt that you’re connected. It’s an eerie connection that’s both comforting and terrifying, because seeing yourself in a fictional character with clearly described traits and flaws makes you feel far too seen.
And yet it’s beautiful.
Elsa in The Four Winds is one of those characters for me. Reading about her emotions, tucked carefully aside because of her inability to properly discuss them, smacked me right in the heart. I’ve always struggled with feeling invisible, unwanted, not important to the people around me. I’ve craved recognition, have always wanted to be a person that others want to have around, have always wanted to feel effortlessly beautiful. So reading Elsa’s pain and quiet fortitude was a strange solace.
She also always assumes everything that goes wrong is inherently her fault. Even when she can’t think how, she knows she is the reason things haven’t gone the way they should. Another thing I do, too.
Of course, outside of that, our similarities end. But that one small connection is what made me crave this book. I wanted to read her journey, see how she traverses the Great Depression..
I also connected with Loreda, Elsa’s daughter. Not immediately, but later, when she felt abandoned and unloved by her father. I, too, have an absent father, one who never tried to make me feel like I was important to him, one who essentially turned his back on me. The pain of it is aching and merciless. It doesn’t fade. It just continues to pummel your heart until the bruises are permanent.
The scene where Loreda discovered Rafe’s departure was almost too difficult for me to read. Her question, why would you leave me?, nearly undid me, because I’ve also had it rolling in my mind my entire life.
This is my first Kristin Hannah book, and I’m absolutely stunned. I’ve been eyeing the Nightingale for some time but just haven’t spent the money on it yet. Now I most definitely will, because if The Four Winds is any indication, Hannah has a complex, heartfelt voice that beautifully captures the struggles of her characters. I felt like I was living in the 30s, experiencing the crash of 29 and the following drought. I saw the dust, the run-down farms, the sack dresses.
I witnessed the divide between cultures and religions, like weeds stubbornly swaying in the broken soil. I felt the rise of hope and its inevitable crash as the characters fled to California.
I also experienced how desperately broken our society is. This book really cemented to me just how fractured humanity truly is, and always has been. There are always people looking down on others, grinding them beneath their heels, dismissing their hardships. It’s eerie how this book is a reflection on history and how it repeats itself.
Will we ever learn?
Will we ever wash out the blood? Open our minds? Build a world strengthened by kindness and understanding, equality and empathy? Or are we cursed to cycle through violence and suffering and hate, over and over and over again?
Those are the questions this book left me with.
A heartbreaking 5 star read, written with a frank voice that doesn’t intrude with the story, but rather allows it space to breathe.