Review: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Summary: Texas, 1934. Millions are out of work and a drought has broken the Great Plains. Farmers are fighting to keep their land and their livelihoods as the crops are failing, the water is drying up, and dust threatens to bury them all. One of the darkest periods of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era, has arrived with a vengeance.

In this uncertain and dangerous time, Elsa Martinelli—like so many of her neighbors—must make an agonizing choice: fight for the land she loves or go west, to California, in search of a better life. 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.

Genre: historical fiction
Rating: 3.5/5 stars

When I was in grade school I read a book about a girl surviving the Dust Bowl era, and I hated that book so much that I swore off any interest in that specific period again (and yes, that includes never reading The Grapes of Wrath, much to my husband’s dismay). In May, I picked up The Four Winds as my birthday bonus pick for Book of the Month. I’d heard so many good things about it, was vaguely familiar with Hannah’s work, and figured 20+ years was enough to get over any negative feelings I had about that part of history.

So why the average rating? Here’s the thing. Kristin Hannah is a beautiful writer. She knows how to create intricate characters and tug at your heartstrings and maybe even make you cry a little bit. But the Dust Bowl is still an extremely dull, depressing topic. I loved all of the characters, I felt their grief and heartache alongside them. I was rooting for Elsa and her family throughout the novel, but I had this constant niggling thought that just maybe this book could have been about half the length and still gotten the point across.

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Review: Conjure Women by Afia Atakora

Summary: Conjure Women is a sweeping story that brings the world of the South before and after the Civil War vividly to life. Spanning eras and generations, it tells of the lives of three unforgettable women: Miss May Belle, a wise healing woman; her precocious and observant daughter Rue, who is reluctant to follow in her mother’s footsteps as a midwife; and their master’s daughter Varina. The secrets and bonds among these women and their community come to a head at the beginning of a war and at the birth of an accursed child, who sets the townspeople alight with fear and a spreading superstition that threatens their newly won, tenuous freedom.
Genre: historical fiction, magical realism
Rating: 4/5 stars

When I was younger, I heavily avoided historical fiction as a whole. The details always felt bogged down. I didn’t understand what could be so interesting about a story that we already know. If it’s part of history, surely we learned about it to some extent, and what’s the point of rehashing that when there are so many other unique stories we can tell instead, you know? My naivety was kind of embarrassing.

Within the last five years or so, I started reading historical fiction based in WW2 Europe and instantly fell in love with the genre, because here’s the thing: yes, if it’s historical fiction we’ve most likely learned about it to some extent, but there are so many unique sides to history that we aren’t always taught. We can’t possibly be taught history from every single perspective, and the historical fiction genre serves to educate us in that realm. Conjure Women is an excellent example of the different narratives that we miss in our standard history lessons in school.

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