The Four Winds
by Krisin Hannah


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

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Any page numbers refer to iPad edition.


1) The book opens in 1921 with the quote by Wendell Berry, Farmer and Poet: To damage the earth is to damage your children. In what ways was this revealed in the story?

2) How did this story resonate with you? Did you have family affected by the Great Depression, the dust bowl era, the great migration?

3) How does this story compare to the migration of immigrants of today?

4) In what ways were people discriminated? They were kept on or out of a job by barbed wire and fences, guns and guards. Cut wages, cut Federal aid, price gouging and/or store closures, evictions, being called “your kind” “Okies” “crooks” or “they’re not human.”

5) What did it mean to be beholden to the land, family, work, and others?

6) Elsa believes that courage is fear you ignore (pg 403 as she’s talking with Jack about starting the worker’s strike.) In how many ways do the characters show their courage? Which character revealed the most? Elsa, Loreda, Grandparents, Jean Dewey, Jack Valen?

7) In what ways was the threat, “if you don’t, somebody else will” much like the dust storms that forced people out of the Midwest?

8) Discuss “When a man resorts to violence, he’s scared” Jack to Elsa after the first strike when they sit down in the field all day and not pick a single ball of cotton. (419)

9) The title comes from Elsa’s journal and is referenced on pages 425-426, starting with, “The four winds have blown us here…” What do you believe are the four winds?

10) The day Elsa stood before the striking workers and through a megaphone offered encouragement that included the mantra, “No more!” (pgs. 431-432) is the day that Loreda says “she (Elsa) found her voice” (pg. 446-Loreda is reading the marked page in Elsa’s journal that her grandmother has just handed her after receiving it via mail from Jack Valen, who’s now in Hollywood fighting another union fight.) And when do you think Loreda found hers?

Hoovervilles ~ “When the government failed to provide relief, President Herbert Hoover (1874-1964) was blamed for the intolerable economic and social conditions, and the shantytowns that cropped up across the nation, primarily on the outskirts of major cities, became known as Hoovervilles. The highly unpopular Hoover, a Republican, was defeated in the 1932 presidential election by Democrat Franklin Roosevelt (1882-1945), whose New Deal recovery programs eventually helped lift the U.S. out of the Depression. In the early 1940s, most remaining Hoovervilles were torn down.

Black Sunday 1935 ~ Wikipedia ~ refers to a particularly severe dust storm that occurred on April 14, 1935 as part of the Dust Bowl in the United States.[1] It was one of the worst dust storms in American history and it caused immense economic and agricultural damage.[2] It is estimated to have displaced 300 million tons of topsoil from the prairie area.[3]

Bloody Thursday ~ International Longshore & Warehouse Union ( ~ “Bloody Thursday,” July 5, 1934, a day that shook San Francisco. The events that day inflamed the working people of San Francisco and the Bay Area. They made the great General Strike of 1934 inevitable and they set in motion a movement that would transform the western waterfronts.

The Range of Light ~ Wikipedia ~ The Depression-era migrants to the San Joaquin Valley from the South and Midwest are one of the more well-known groups in the Central Valley, in large part due to the popularity of John Steinbeck's novel The Grapes of Wrath and the Henry Fonda movie made from it. = San Joaquin Valley


From Reading Group Guides

By Kristin Hannah

1. “Hope is a coin I carry…. There were times in my journey when it felt as if that penny and the hope it represented were the only things that kept me going.” (1) What is the significance of the fact that it is an American penny? In what ways does hope anchor us in the moment, and in what ways does it push us forward? Do you or your family have any keepsakes that represent your family’s hope for the future?

2. “But we women of the Great Plains worked from sunup to sundown, too, toiled on wheat farms until we were as dry and baked as the land we loved.” (1) The stories of women have largely gone undocumented throughout history, and this era is no different. It is changing, slowly, and women’s courage and determination and victories are being brought to light. How are women’s stories different? Why do you think they’ve gone unreported for so long? Do you think sharing these stories will make a difference to future generations?

3. Life was very different for unmarried young women in earlier generations. Expectations for their future were sharply defined. How is Elsa shaped by these expectations and her failure to meet them? Do you think it would have been the same for her in New York City? Did you feel compressed by expectation when you were growing up? Do you think these societal mores were designed to keep women “in their place”? How difficult is it to defy both family and society in a small town?

4. “She wished she’d never read THE AGE OF INNOCENCE. What good came from all this unexpressed longing? She would never fall in love, never have a child of her own.” (8) Literature is, quite honestly, the opening of a door. Through that door, Elsa saw whole other lives, other futures. What books influenced you when you were growing up? Did any novel and/or character change your perception of either yourself or the world? Did you identify with Elsa and her journey throughout this book? In what way?

5. “She had to believe there was grit in her, even if it had never been tested or revealed.” (9) This sentence highlights Elsa’s essentially hopeful nature, even though she doesn’t believe in herself. Her family and her world have pared her down to inconsequence. Does this idea resonate with you? Have you seen it at work in other people? In yourself?

6. In 1920s America, there was significant prejudice against Italians; we see that prejudice in Elsa’s own family. What does Rafe represent to Elsa on the night they meet? Is it simply sex and loneliness? Or do you think there’s something deeper involved? Another small defiance against her parents’ small-mindedness? What does it say about Elsa that she went with Rafe so willingly?

7. “My land tells its story if you listen. The story of our family. We plant, we tend, we harvest. I make wine from grape cuttings that I brought here from Sicily, and the wine I make reminds me of my father. It binds us, one to another, as it has for generations. Now it will bind you to us.” (51) How are people connected to the land that they occupy? What about the land they farm? Describe that unique and complicated connection.

8. Motherhood changes Elsa in almost every way. What does she learn by becoming a mother? What does she learn about motherhood from Rose? How does motherhood strengthen a woman? How does it weaken her? How does Elsa remain “herself” after giving birth? How does she change?

9. Few things can break a woman’s heart like motherhood. “Elsa grieved daily for the loss of that closeness with her firstborn. At first she’d tried to scale the walls of her daughter’s adolescent, irrational anger; she’d volleyed back with words of love, but Loreda’s continuing, thriving impatience with Elsa had done worse than grind her down. It had resurrected all the insecurities of childhood.” (66) If you’re a parent, did this passage resonate with you? Why?

10. The adolescent years can be especially difficult on mothers and daughters. Did you dislike Loreda during these years? Did you understand her?

11. “Tony and Rose were the kind of people who expected life to be hard and had become tougher to survive…. They might have come off the boat as Anthony and Rosalba, but hard work and the land had turned them into Tony and Rose. Americans. They would die of thirst and hunger before they’d give that up.” (76) Do you think this attitude is a common thread in those who across generations have come to chase the “American Dream”? Why is land so important to that dream? How does one “become American”?

12. There is a strong thread running through this novel about man’s connection to the land. During the Dust Bowl, while many families went west in search of work and a better life, most of them stayed behind on their parched farms. Why do you think that is?

13. What bonds Loreda and her father? What dreams do they share? Do they intend to exclude Elsa, whom they perceive as just a workhorse? Or is she partially to blame for being ostracized? How does her lack of self-esteem color her relationships with her husband and eldest child?

14. What do you think about Rafe? Was he as trapped by his family’s expectations as Elsa had been by her own? Did you expect him to leave?

15. How would you describe the Texas landscape the author paints? With its dust storms and earth dry and zigzag cracked, is it like any you’ve known?

16. “Even if they didn’t speak of their love, or share their feelings in long, heartfelt conversations, the bond was there. Sturdy. They’d sewn their lives together in the silent way of women unused to conversation. Day after day, they worked together, prayed together, held their growing family together through the hardships of farm life.” (90–91) Do you share a similar bond with the women in your life --- either as a mother, a daughter, or a daughter-in-law? With your friends? Why do you think female bonding is so important to women?

17. Why does Rafe leave, and what is he chasing out west? Do you have sympathy for how broken he felt by the poverty and hardship? Should Elsa have agreed to go with him? How does Elsa aim to fill his void, and why does she believe she loves him even after the abandonment?

18. Why does the Martinelli family stay under such brutal conditions --- the heat, the dust storms, the lack of food, and the dying livestock? Does it reveal anything about the grit that literally fills their bodies? What choices do they have, and what might you have done during the drought? Were you surprised that Elsa set off without her in-laws? Would you have had the courage to do the same?

19. How have the Dust Bowl and “going west” been treated by the American imagination (perhaps in song or cinema)? What has been glamorized, and what grittiness has been left out or effectively captured? Elsa compares them to the early pioneers in their covered wagons. Is that an accurate comparison?

20. Life in California is not at all what the migrants expected, what advertisements had led them to believe. The locals treat them badly, are afraid of them. Why is that? How does the treatment of migrants in California during the Great Depression mirror the treatment of immigrants today? How is it the same? How is it different?

21. How do Elsa and her family remain unbroken even while enduring crippling poverty, food and shelter insecurity, and living in a town that is hostile to them? Would they have fared better in Texas?

22. What do Jack and the Communist union organizers offer the migrant workers, and Loreda in particular? Why is it a risk to associate with them, and what is Elsa’s hesitation?

23. In the 1930s, communism and socialism were on the rise, partially in response to the grinding poverty, joblessness and despair. The Communists claimed that “communism is the new Americanism.” Can you understand why people believed in that? What do we know now that people didn’t know then? How do you think these perceptions have changed over time?

24. Discuss the shift in thinking that happens between generations --- the freedoms longed for and the sacrifices required. The Greatest Generation was shaped by the Great Depression and World War II. They willingly sacrificed for each other and did what they could to help. How is the modern world different? How do we face our own dark times?

25. How does the Great Depression setting of THE FOUR WINDS compare to America during the pandemic? What lessons of resilience and healing might be embedded in this story? How might others’ struggles inspire us? Do you have any family stories from the Depression?

26. They say that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Americans were faced with many of the same challenges of the Great Depression. Did we learn from previous generations? What differences can you see in the two difficult times? What similarities? How do you think future generations will judge the America of today?

27. “Courage is fear you ignore.” Discuss this. How do Elsa’s and Loreda’s actions embody this idea?

28. Fighting for any kind of social equality or radical change often requires great personal sacrifice. How does Elsa represent the courage it takes to stand up and make trouble and be counted?

29. Why was it so important for Loreda to get her mother back to Texas, even if at such a high cost? How did she finally come to understand her mother and her choices through a new lens?

30. Did you find the end of Elsa’s and her family’s journey satisfying? Where do you think Ant and Loreda ended up? How do you see Loreda’s life being like her mother’s? How will it be different?


Kauai Book Club through the Kauai Writers Conference summer series. 03/21/2021

Interviewer: Priya Parmar (Vanessa and Her Sisters) with Kristin Hannah (The Four Winds).

Not exact because I couldn’t type that fast!!

PP ~ Did you come up with the characters or the setting first? KH ~ I started this 7-8 years ago during the Nightingale. Women at the forefront of traditional stories that are more a male landscape. It meant a lot to me. Looked for an American experience…an American Nightingale, but not a world at word. led me to the dust bowl to the migration.

PP ~ There was a character you had not expected…sometimes they just step up…someone in this book forced her way in, who was it? KH ~ I did a year’s worth of research, as authors we sell a fleshed out idea, and then write. I wrote it for a year. Elsa was not in it! At year two of writing, she walked on as unexpected character, but just as Rafe’s wife. I had to figure out how to make her special by throwing everything away. I had to begin the book new to present Elsa’s journey. Same framework with all the pieces already in place, but I changed all the characters because the Martinelli’s didn’t exist. It was originally a big love story with Loreda. 24-34 years old. [PP~ Just “a whole arc out.”] When I make a change like this, it’s after considerable thought…A clarity appears that wasn’t there before. It makes the writing much easier. So much of writing is finding your way.

KH ~ My advice is always to write it. Write it badly. Write a draft. Get your arc and figure that out. Put them through hell and then deeper hell. You have to write your way there. I’m a big believer in the subconscious is guiding you but you’re your worst enemy standing in the way. Whatever you have, write it down and if it doesn’t work, at some point there’s a place for it. It’s just at a different time/place to make it.

PP ~ How much, a couple of scenes, she walks into a store and isn’t wanted. She realizes she’s “othered” completely. This struck me so hard in the political environment we live. Was it a product of that character? KH ~ I was drawn to the parallels between the Great Depression and the political divide we’re currently in. A lot of issues felt of the moment. I believe what’s past is prologued and there’s so many ways to use fiction to create empathy to step into the shoes of other people and experience their moment. I didn’t know it would be this relevant. I went into lockdown on the day I released this novel. It’s a portrait of resilience. Whatever is wrong can be worked on and be survived.

PP ~ There are some moments that crystalize so exactly like when the government agents come to town and the people say we want help. KH ~ Most people stayed on the land and did not move west. I found it incredibly romantic.

PP ~ You intertwine beautifully the people and the land. You make the land alive. It’s so vital to the people, so when it dries up, it’s heartbreaking in the way you think of climate change today. It felt like it was crushing this family. KH ~ You understand there’s a component of “man,” “farming methods,” “lack of irrigation,” The Great Depression, the drought. Our actions can be undone. Change can be made. I’m grateful.

PP ~ It was an interesting dynamic when the man comes and says you have to farm differently. He wasn’t a sympathetic character. It was an interesting thing to do to put us in the shoes of the people who were doing the wrong thing. KH~ The people loved the land. The idea you had inadvertently and unknowingly done something to hurt the land, don’t want the government telling them what to do, they don’t want a handout, they simply want to farm their land.

PP ~ They said, “We want help. We want water.” It strikes so differently than today where people can’t get out to their jobs. Did you change anything during the pandemic? KH ~ No. I was done. I did add an author’s note. I was very concerned. I worked hard on this book. I thought maybe a pandemic wasn’t the best time to bring a book into this world. I just felt like it’s been such a hard time and we’ve learned so much about ourselves. For the first 3-4 months until I wrapped my head around this is a long haul, I had a hard time reading, writing, being creative, and so I wondered how a book about so much adversity would land in a world the way it was.

PP ~ It’s landed in a way…it’s giving voice to a lot of feelings write now. KH ~ I hope so. I hear a lot of this sort of understanding that as bad as this has been, when you put it in contrast to the decade of the Great Depression, it helps to put a few things in perspective.

PP ~ I’m interested in the way you chose to structure this story that sets Elsa up so brilliantly and then you do this massive jump into the Great Depression. KH ~ For the first two years, the Great Depression was the start, but once Elsa came to me, I kept having to add backstory to explain who she was. It was in the story that was always there in her character but it was only in four sentences. Also…it was so relentless. It was really nice to at least begin in a time when the rain was falling and the crops were growing. They were eating food. PP ~ the vibrancy of the red dress, the flowers in her mother’s garden, the beauty of the wheat fields. You set it up why this meant so much to this family and Elsa.

PP ~ Elsa’s growing into herself. You said, get her in trouble and you and your character will see who they really are. KH ~ I changed the way I thought of fiction about 8 years and 18 books ago after watching Breaking Bad and Game of Thrones. Suddenly you understand where someone can die at any moment, where the stakes escalate to where it’s almost unbearable and then escalates again. Don’t do the incremental little thing, do the big thin and then jump off the ledge to see where that character takes you.

PP ~ The scope of your canvass is change. The trouble Elsa gets into, there was a point I had to put it down. Too much pain. and then more bad. Then it clicked, that’s the Great Depression. That’s how people felt. KH~ that’s my point. I’m deeply optimistic. This book was more than about this woman’s story. it was a very difficult time period to pull back on or to soften it in some way to make it more palatable. It wasn’t doing it justice to the lesson I wanted to teach. The chasm between the haves and have nots is great in this book. Fiction is an idea of empathy. I dare you to get to the end of this book and not understand why unions matter and why collective measures were needed.

KH ~ so many of our stories are being lost because that generation isn’t telling them. they’re too dark. I encourage you to talk to your elders, see if there’s anything there worth mining.

K. Nohr ~ Why did you title it THE FOUR WINDS. KH ~ I generally turn mine in untitled. I did with this one as well. I’m horrible at titles. I batted it around with a critique partner of mine, editor, etc for 3-4 months because we really wanted this gender neutral, deeply American title. None of us could agree. In Feb, I was taking my grandchildren to see Frozen and this bus pulls up with THE FOUR WINDS a written across the side and I said this is it. Literally I got hit by a bus to come up with the title.

K. Nohr ~ You talk about the money (cost, how much they had) I’m about ready to perish and then all of a sudden someone gets a cookie. How did you learn about the food and recipes and intertwined what they ate for breakfast, flour and water pancakes, tell us about the food. KH ~ It’s part of our job. Fiction is about world building. I really believe it’s our job to provide that immersive a world in specific detail. What a gallon of gas costs, exactly what they’re able to each, how much money they have, put readers in the characters’ shoes. With Elsa, I was reminded of this idea that kindness matters so much in times of adversity. something we can learn right now during the pandemic. the haircut scene is one of my favorites because somebody gifts them in a way it makes you want to cry. you have to have peaks and valleys. you have to allow the reader to breathe every now and okay and be okay with things.

N. Clark ~ What did you find most useful in your research? And is this a women’s book? KH ~ I don’t think in terms of gender with the audience. It’s obviously a female gender book but it has a broader scope. Research is my job. The Grapes of Wrath was based on notes taken by a woman who sent her notes to her boss, but intended to write her own book which becomes unpublishable until 1997. “Whose Names are Unknown. All those notes are available in Austin TX. I got to read all of them. Fabulous and informative.

Ron D. ~ How do you handle “lecturing” and “personal opinions” in/our of your story? KH ~ in early drafts I’m highly opinionated and want to beat you over the head with my message. At some point, though, it’s a story that’s being told by characters. I take all that energy of our social justice issues and feed that through them. It’s about backstory. What’s in your character’s past that makes them believe these things and pursue these things. Look at Elsa, she has no voice. That’s the arc of this story. I give you the facts that makes her believe what she believes. if you want someone believe something make readers come to that conclusion on their own.

PP ~ I get too close and bury my story too deeply. A really good editor helps you see that. KH~ an editor and an agent. The problem is you can’t get one. You need them to get better but you can’t get one until you are better. It’s a conundrum. The fight in this industry is the fight in it. You just keep believing you’ll get better. Surround yourself with smart people. People who don’t care about your feelings but are willing to tell you the truth. You have to open to it as well.

R. Bishop ~ The aspect of family size and feeding them. Did you see a lot of that in your research? KH ~ Well sure. Farming families needed a lot of children to work the farm. They stopped school when it was time to harvest the wheat. A lot of these families would have been bigger than the Martinelli’s.

E Gallant (WMBC) ~Tell us about Loreda. KH~ It was her novel first as an adult and then a sister to Rafe (?). When I gave it to Elsa, it became a mother/daughter situation. Loreda had to be totally rewritten. I was that 13 yo. I fought my parents, my mother. (Paraphrasing now because I had to stop typing to listen.) Loreda was brave and suffered greatly as did Ant, particularly by putting a gun to Welty’s chest and with following Jack. She lost her father, her most important supporter and then she loses her mother. (There was more, but I can’t recall it all, but a good conversation.)

PP ~ Talk about killing your darlings. KH ~ make sure your characters are full developed enough that they can do what they need to do. You might not have enough foundation for a character to do what they need to do. It’s best to go back and figure it out. As a beginner it’s easier to start over but what’s most important is to finish a novel. That’s step 1. Just keep putting one foot in front of another. Finish it and you’re now in the 1% club. Step 2 is writing a better novel. It’s how this career works - incremental change that happens daily. It’s your level of talent that stops you. You need to be understanding enough that’s it’s not the best you can do but to keep going.

PP ~ What’s your day like? how do you do it? KH ~ Pre pandemic. I write longhand on yellow legal pads. I write on the beach, the lanai, anywhere. I’m very disciplined, structured, I get up I run, I write, I do this 5-days a week. You don’t know what to write 90% of the time, that’s the job. I sit down with my pad, I know arguably what I need to know, what comes next. Some days I just sit down and write, other days I stare at it and write descriptions. I have a workday and I write during my workday hours.

Guest ~ Other than agent and editor, do you have trusted readers? KH ~ I do. I’m a collaborative and editorial person. My least favorite part of the job is coming up with an idea, my second favorite is the 1st draft. My best friend has been my cp for 30 years and then I have a group of friends -- when it’s as good as I can do -- I give it to someone who says, yeah, not even close. I’ve discovered people who see things I don’t see and I seek them out and listen to them.

PP ~ Editors have a way of blowing the door off what you didn’t see. KH ~ It becomes the grief cycle. Someone is giving you good advice and the opportunity to do better. I’ve been so lucky with really great editorial. You have to put the time in that both respect yours and their work and you can create a dialogue to move this book along.

PP ~ You can’t play defense, you have to be ready to hear it to not feel bad about it. That it’s all for the good. KH ~“The universe will provide all that you need, but you’ve got to reach out. You need to make it happen.” career=vulnerability and toughness.

WMBC Questions compiled by: Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
Apr. 2021