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Book club questions for The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah takes a deep dive into all the major events and character development in this epic read. There will be spoilers so for more context about the book, check out my spoiler-free review first.
I really enjoyed this novel. I hold The Nightingale as Kristin Hannah’s best work but this one does come a very close second. It’s such a vivid read and you feel like you’re right there along with Elsa and her children on this hard journey.
Going into the novel, I had wondered how much of the trip from Texas to California would be covered. And I’m glad that wasn’t a big focus of the novel. I was much more interested in their lives in California and how they would try to make it work.
I mentioned this in my review but it’s eerie how the hardships presented in The Four Winds remain today and even more so due to the pandemic. Businesses have been devastated and so many people have lost work. And you couple that with the reality of the impacts of climate change. So even the ’30s were so long ago, I think people will see some of our society’s current problems made an appearance then as well. I guess the big question is—what can we learn from history and how to avoid repeating the same mistakes?
Texas, 1921. A time of abundance. The Great War is over, the bounty of the land is plentiful, and America is on the brink of a new and optimistic era. But for Elsa Wolcott, deemed too old to marry in a time when marriage is a woman’s only option, the future seems bleak. Until the night she meets Rafe Martinelli and decides to change the direction of her life. With her reputation in ruin, there is only one respectable choice: marriage to a man she barely knows.
By 1934, the world has changed; millions are out of work and drought has devastated the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as crops fail and water dries up and the earth cracks open. Dust storms roll relentlessly across the plains. Everything on the Martinelli farm is dying, including Elsa’s tenuous marriage; each day is a desperate battle against nature and a fight to keep her children alive.
In this uncertain and perilous time, Elsa—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or leave it behind and go west, to California, in search of a better life for her family.
The Four Winds is a rich, sweeping novel that stunningly brings to life the Great Depression and the people who lived through it—the harsh realities that divided us as a nation and the enduring battle between the haves and the have-nots. A testament to hope, resilience, and the strength of the human spirit to survive adversity, The Four Winds is an indelible portrait of America and the American dream, as seen through the eyes of one indomitable woman whose courage and sacrifice will come to define a generation.
The Four Winds Book Club Questions
- A big theme of the novel is obtaining the American Dream whether it’s through financial independence of owning a farm or traveling to California in search of a better life. Do you think the American Dream is a reality or a myth?
- Elsa’s parents view her as a sickly and unlovable person. How did this treatment impact her later relationships and her search for love?
- When Elsa meets Rafe, everything changes but not in the way either expected. Rafe was set to go to college but once Elsa is pregnant with his child, those plans are canceled. Let’s talk the impact of Elsa’s pregnancy on all parties involved.
- We flash forward to 1934 and the farm is experiencing a severe drought. Both Rafe and their daughter Loreda are dreamers and believe there’s more to life than just the farm. Let’s talk about the similarities they share and how different it is from Elsa.
- Why do you think Loreda became so resentful of Elsa?
- After trying to convince Elsa to leave behind the farm, Rafe eventually leaves the family behind. Why did Elsa initially refused to move away from the farm? What do you think happened to Rafe?
- Ant experienced extreme sickness from the impacts of the dust storms, which finally forces Elsa to make the decision to move the family to California. What would you have done if you were in Elsa’s position?
- Elsa thought the children’s grandparents would join them on the journey but they refuse to leave behind the land. Loreda says “they’re like a plant that can only grow in one place.” Let’s discuss what Loreda is saying here.
- California is promised as the land of “milk and honey” and opportunity. But when Elsa and her family arrives to the state, they instantly realize reality is much different. The locals shun the new visitors and label them as dirty “Okies.” And the only “opportunity” is a life of poverty. Comparing the devastation of the farm to the hardships of the camps, what do you think was harder for Elsa and the family?
- With the extreme poverty conditions, there’s often remarks about how it’s inconceivable that this is taking place in America in the ’30s. What are your thoughts on this and the similarities to the present day?
- Loreda really finds her voice after going to the Communist movement meeting and being introduced to Jack. Let’s discuss Loreda’s new found activism and how that carried on to every decision she made going forward.
- Initially hesitant of Jack and his ideals, Elsa ends up falling hard for him—and experiences romantic love for the first time. What did you think about their romance?
- Jack calls Elsa a warrior. What’s the definition of a warrior to you?
- Elsa uses her voice to speak out against the oppressors. But she is shot and eventually passes away. Let’s talk about the climax of the story.
- What did you think about the ending and Loreda returning back to California to attend college?
- Do you have a favorite quote or scene in the story?
- What lessons can be learned from this time in history?
Hope you enjoyed book club questions for The Four Winds! Here are some more recommendations along with links to book club questions.
The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd
If you’re looking for another epic style story, The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd is a great choice.
In her mesmerizing fourth work of fiction, Sue Monk Kidd takes an audacious approach to history and brings her acclaimed narrative gifts to imagine the story of a young woman named Ana. Raised in a wealthy family with ties to the ruler of Galilee, she is rebellious and ambitious, with a brilliant mind and a daring spirit. She engages in furtive scholarly pursuits and writes narratives about neglected and silenced women. Ana is expected to marry an older widower, a prospect that horrifies her. An encounter with eighteen-year-old Jesus changes everything.
Their marriage evolves with love and conflict, humor and pathos in Nazareth, where Ana makes a home with Jesus, his brothers, and their mother, Mary. Ana’s pent-up longings intensify amid the turbulent resistance to Rome’s occupation of Israel, partially led by her brother, Judas. She is sustained by her fearless aunt Yaltha, who harbors a compelling secret. When Ana commits a brazen act that puts her in peril, she flees to Alexandria, where startling revelations and greater dangers unfold, and she finds refuge in unexpected surroundings. Ana determines her fate during a stunning convergence of events considered among the most impactful in human history.
Grounded in meticulous research and written with a reverential approach to Jesus’s life that focuses on his humanity, The Book of Longings is an inspiring, unforgettable account of one woman’s bold struggle to realize the passion and potential inside her, while living in a time, place and culture devised to silence her. It is a triumph of storytelling both timely and timeless, from a masterful writer at the height of her powers.
The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah
If you haven’t read The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah yet, I highly recommend it!
Alaska, 1974. Ernt Allbright came home from the Vietnam War a changed and volatile man. When he loses yet another job, he makes the impulsive decision to move his wife and daughter north where they will live off the grid in America’s last true frontier.
Cora will do anything for the man she loves, even if means following him into the unknown. Thirteen-year-old Leni, caught in the riptide of her parents’ passionate, stormy relationship, has little choice but to go along, daring to hope this new land promises her family a better future.
In a wild, remote corner of Alaska, the Allbrights find a fiercely independent community of strong men and even stronger women. The long, sunlit days and the generosity of the locals make up for the newcomers’ lack of preparation and dwindling resources.
But as winter approaches and darkness descends, Ernt’s fragile mental state deteriorates. Soon the perils outside pale in comparison to threats from within. In their small cabin, covered in snow, blanketed in eighteen hours of night, Leni and her mother learn the terrible truth: they are on their own.