Finest-selling writer Kristin Hannah reveals the weird journey of ‘The 4 Winds’ – Orange County Register
Kristin Hannah had been researching and writing an early draft of her new novel for a year when she realized she’d lost her way.
“The Four Winds” is set in the Texas Panhandle as the Depression and Dust Bowl environmental disaster. On the edge of Hannah’s story, as she had originally thought it, was the character Elsa, a young woman who had felt unloved and unworthy and who found meaning as a mother of two young children.
“I wrote it for at least a year, and Elsa was kind of a peripheral character,” says Hannah. “She was Rafe’s wife, but she wasn’t a point of view figure, and it wasn’t her story in any way.
“And as the novel progressed, I became more and more interested in Elsa and her difficult journey from insecure and unloved to a woman who found her own voice,” she says.
And so Hannah says she has hardened herself and made a fresh start.
“After a year, I just gave in and threw away most of what I had done,” she says. “And restarted the book as Elsa’s story.
“I think that’s where it really became the story I was supposed to tell and the story people were supposed to read.”
It is likely that readers of The Four Winds, who arrived on February 2nd, had no other way of imagining this story. One such strong figure is Elsa, who struggles to survive and finds her own strength in a story that spanned from the Dust Bowl to the migrant camps in California’s Central Valley in the mid-1930s.
For Hannah, this confirms the decision to put Elsa at the center of the story, which, like her 2015 bestseller “The Nightingale,” a novel about the women of the French resistance during WWII, focuses on an epic story about women against which they compete against the background of the story.
“As I traveled to find this book and talked to people, I really began to understand how this story of female courage and the lost story of women resonated with people,” says Hannah. “And I really wanted to write a quintessentially American novel about a story of lost history that I thought was as emotional and inspiring as ‘The Nightingale’.”
In her early research on the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, she found that as a woman born and raised in Southern California and in the Pacific Northwest, where she still lives today, she did not know much about the struggles people had during that time and in this day Place.
“All of these difficulties are remarkable and inspiring,” says Hannah. “I think that has real messages for today.”
Before she started writing, Hannah said she did extensive research to be as specific as possible about the story and the people she wanted to write about. She visited Dalhart, Texas, the city where Elsa’s story begins, and later, after driving remnants of Route 66 west to California, spent time at the Sunset migrant camp near Arvin to see which of them were Conditions her later Elsa and she took up children.
Source materials at the University of Texas at Austin also helped, including the writings of writer Sanora Babb and the memories of many who lived through the Dust Bowl and migration west, Hannah says. At the center of many of these texts are the double passions for land and family, which underpin much of the story of “The Four Winds”.
“In the truest sense of the word, it’s kind of a core,” she says. “I’m a girl on the west coast and I’ve moved a lot, so I don’t come from one of those families that are basically connected to one place.
“And so I was always fascinated by this idea of the people who stay on land for generations and pass them on and for whom this land constitutes a large part of their identity. One of the things that was so amazing to me while doing the research was the vast majority of these families who owned and stayed in the area, owned these dust bowl farms.
“The level of hope, resilience and love for the country that I am shown is simply inspiring,” says Hannah.
When reading “The Four Winds” it is impossible not to notice parallels between the fictional past and the actual present. Climate catastrophe is a threat then and now. The economic collapse caused by a pandemic is often compared to the depression. Issues such as immigration between states or nations and income inequality also play a role.
“I started doing this almost four years ago, and obviously I had no idea how timely and relevant it would be to come out at that moment,” says Hannah. “What I keep hearing and what I think is true is that it’s a really good book that people can read now.
“Because it is a reminder of the strength of the human mind and our ability not only to survive difficulties but ultimately to thrive,” she says.
On February 3, Netflix started the series adaptation of Hannah’s “Firefly Lane”, the 2008 novel about best friends Tully and Kate with Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke. It is the first of Hannah’s books to be adapted for American television or film. By the end of the year, however, “The Nightingale” is expected to be released, with Elle and Dakota Fanning as sisters of the book.
There hasn’t been a Hollywood version of “The Four Winds,” as yet, although the sprawling backstop and epic storyline appear to be tailored for a limited series, especially given the strength of a character like Elsa.
Hannah hopes readers will love Elsa as much as she does.
“She begins the novel with the thought that she is weak, that she is illiterate and unkind,” she says. “And through her difficult marriage, the hug of her in-laws and motherhood, and becoming a farm woman, she really goes on this journey of becoming fearless and a warrior.
“She feels strong enough in her opinions and self-esteem to fight not only for her own children and herself, but also for others,” says Hannah. “I just found the journey of a woman who found her voice to be incredibly powerful.”