(First published on Prose and the Pandemic Facebook Group 5/3/21)
At a time when our country is struggling with a pandemic, reading a book about surviving hard times is inspiring. The Four Winds begins in 1921 when the Great War is over and everyone is prospering. Elsa Wolcott wants romance and marriage, but she is too old and too unattractive. Then she falls in love with Rafe Martinelli. An unplanned pregnancy causes her family to banish her, and Elsa to marry a man she loves but hardly knows. Elsa and Rafe live with his parents, where Elsa finds the loving family she always wanted. When the Depression devastates the family and its land, Elsa must head to California alone with her teenage daughter and young son.
So the plot is not unique. In fact, it’s a bit predictable. What sets The Four Winds apart is the characters. Elsa is a strong woman who has battled some form of adversity her whole life. She doesn’t give up. When the struggle is as basic as feeding her family, despair threatens but never triumphs.
The novel parallels the isolation, unemployment, and fear for the future of our current world situation. The story shows that not everyone survives, but some do. That’s a realistic view that gives some hope. The author includes vivid descriptions of the treatment migrant workers received from growers, the company store and the roadside camps. The budding Communist movement offers hope but at a fierce price. What are you willing to risk for a better future?
Overall, the characters in this book, particularly Elsa and her daughter, Loreda, are compelling. They are resilient. They make mistakes but keep on pushing forward. Long after I put the book down, I was still thinking about them. That is the test of a good book for me.