Kristin Hannah is known for her sweeping, emotional books that focus on women and their relationships with their families, often set against fascinating time periods throughout history. In her latest book, she takes on the years spanning the American Great Depression, which makes for an engrossing and bittersweet saga about loss and starting over…and would a great pick for your next book club meeting! These are some The Four Winds book club questions to get started with!
The Four Winds Book Summary
The Four Winds follows Elsa, a young woman in 1921 who is already considered too old to marry. When she meets Rafe Martinelli, she takes a fateful choice that sends her to the alter with him, and soon finds herself embarking on a marriage to a man she barely knows in order to preserve her reputation. The story picks up again over ten years later, when the Dust Bowl has ravaged Elsa’s family’s farm and options are bleak. With her marriage falling apart and no work to be had anywhere, Elsa finds herself faced with an impossible choice: Stay on her Texas farm and fight for the land she loves dearly, or give up everything and face an uncertain promise of a future in California.
The Four Winds Reading Guide
Before reading, you might want to check out some facts about The Great Depression, and learn about its causes and the effects that the economic downturn had on politics and on the great migration of Midwesterners to the west coast. Check out one of the most iconic images from that time period, Dorothea Lange’s Migrant Mother, and learn about the context of that photograph. Consider what you know about the Great Depression, and what stories get told about that time period. If you have any questions about the Great Depression or you see events referenced you don’t understand, write them down to look up later.
The Four Winds Book Club Questions
How is Elsa’s life defined by the expectations of others, rather than her own desires? Do those external expectations change or shift throughout the novel?
How does Elsa’s life change when she becomes a mother?
How is the American Dream defined throughout the story? Do the characters all have differing ideas of what the American Dream means to them? Do you think the American Dream is still something we reach for now, almost 100 years later?
Discuss Elsa’s feelings for the land and the farm she lives on. Do you think that her connection to the place she’s from was relatable? Do you have strong connections to the places you’ve lived, or the place you’re from?
Do you think that Elsa made the right choice when it came to deciding to leave or stay? Discuss the hardships that those who stayed faced, and the hardships that those who went West encountered.
Do you see any parallels between life during the Great Depression and the times that we are living in? What can we learn from The Four Winds and Elsa’s experiences?
Throughout the book, hope is something that Elsa holds onto even when things are bleak. Discuss the power of hope, and how it buoys her. Do you think her hope is foolish?
Consider the famous photograph Migrant Mother. Does that photograph hold deeper meaning to you now that you’ve read Elsa’s story? Discuss how women were affected by the Great Depression.
Discuss the relationship between Elsa and her daughter. How does it change and shift, and how does the book leave them?
What is your favorite line in the book?
What other books about the Great Depression have you read, or would you recommend? Was anyone required to read The Grapes of Wrath in school?
The Four Winds Book Club Food Ideas
While many of the major themes surrounding this book are about doing without or not having enough, you don’t have to do without great food to accompany this book! Here are some ideas for food mentioned or inspired by the book that your book club can enjoy during their discussion or meeting:
- Make an Italian dish or pasta, to honor Rafe’s Italian heritage. You can serve foettucinne, pancetta, and minestrone soup for your main dishes, and cannoli for dessert!
- If you want to be extra adventurous, try your hands at some pickle and peanut butter sandwiches!
- Try some “camp” food—casseroles, hot dogs, saltines, macaroni, etc.
- For dessert, try your hand at an upside down peach cake, served at the Wolcott family Fourth of July picnic
Want more recommendations? Check out our list of book club recommendations for 2021. If you’d like to be a part of a book club, why not start your own? We have some ideas for how you can get started.
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