- During the family’s time in the Central Valley of California, a flood destroys the migrant workers’ campground, and the residents lose their scant and pathetic possessions. The Red Cross comes to the assistance of these victims. Sweet, isn’t it? Just what we expect to happen. But in reality, prejudice against the migrants was so severe that the local chapter of the Red Cross (at least, a chapter in the general area of the novel’s fictitious town) prohibited aid to migrants! My bullshit detector was triggered by the mention of the Red Cross, which doesn’t have a great reputation for this type of aid, so I looked it up. No help for Okies here! (source)
- The novel is full of food descriptions, which I found very suspicious — too stereotyped, too much variety, too similar to American foods and Italian foods now. I won’t bother you with details, except to point to the fatal flaw in so many historic novels (often good, well-researched ones). Authors believe that tiramisu is an old traditional Italian dessert, but in fact the recipe was invented and NAMED in the 1970s. It doesn’t belong on an immigrant’s table in the 1930s! I have complained about anachronistic tiramisu in other historical novels, too (see this: https://maefood.blogspot.com/2021/11/tiramisu.html) Errors in food history, in my opinion, point to a sloppy attitude on the part of the author, who doesn’t care because she thinks her readers don’t care.
- Throughout the novel, a lucky US penny is a key item in the life of the main character and her immigrant in-laws. It came into their possession as they were leaving Sicily: they found it on the street. The wheat sheaves on the obverse of the penny to them meant prosperity and promise from the new country they were heading for. What bothered me is that the design of the so-described penny came into circulation in 1909, and the details of the parents’ immigration would set their departure several years earlier. Not important, maybe, but it tells me that the author thought attention to historic detail was unimportant.
- Elsa, the main character, and later her daughter are great readers, and loved libraries. I was a bit suspicious of the breadth of Elsa’s reading — she lived in such a small town, but owned many books. Her daughter later asks a librarian for a recommendation for reading, and the librarian offers her the Nancy Drew mysteries. This really seems questionable, because at that time, librarians thought the very popular kids’ series books like Nancy Drew were not literary enough and they had higher goals for what they wanted kids to read. I verified this by finding an article on the topic: it wasn’t until the 1960s that librarians would have offered such books. This is in fact my own recollection from my own childhood in libraries! (The article, “Scorned Literature,” is fun to read for its own sake.)
Frankly, it you want to read or hear about the dust bowl, the Okies, the migrant workers in California during the Depression, and the related political issues, I would recommend that you read Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath or watch the Ken Burns history series titled “The Dust Bowl.” You could even read some actual historical research, though most likely, it wouldn’t have seamy (though trite) sex scenes like the novel.
Looking Up Some Facts
You can see that I did have fun looking up some of the background about the Dust Bowl and the details of the lives of the characters in The Four Winds. I really wish the book had been better!
I found a few sources that indicated that the book sometimes was a pretty good reflection of history. Dallhart, Texas, a town in Dallam County, was the birthplace of Elsa, the main character. For one thing, Elsa loves the library (though its founding date was one of the facts that the author shifted to make a better story). I found some interesting material in the website of the Texas State Historical Association:
The Dallam County Public Library, the first county library in Texas, opened for circulation in January 1921. …
During the drought years of the 1930s Dalhart was notorious for its "black dusters" (see DUST BOWL). R. S. (Uncle Dick) Coon, a wealthy businessman who owned the DeSoto Hotel, became legendary for his generosity to depression-stricken farmers and cowboys. In August 1934 Dalhart became the site of one of the first three erosion-control demonstration projects in Texas, sponsored by the federal land bank, and the first to be devoted specifically to wind erosion.
What Reviewers SaidSome of the reviews of this best-seller seemed to have a reaction pretty much like mine. For example, the Washington Post review was titled "‘The Four Winds’ is Kristin Hannah’s next inevitable bestseller. Don’t forget the tissues." Its conclusion:
As I’ve said, I wish this had been a better-written and better-researched novel, but at least it caused me to look up some interesting history articles!
Review by mae sander for mae food dot blogspot dot com. © 2022.