Looking for The Four Winds book club questions for your next reading group meeting? Here are 15 thought-provoking discussion questions to get you guys going!
The Four Winds is an epic novel by Kristin Hannah. Released in 2021, the book follows main character Elsa as she struggles to keep her children safe deep in Texas during the terrible dustbowl years. Elsa must dig deep, finding an unexpected inner strength to survive.
It’s a beautiful story with some interesting themes: the power of motherhood, the reality of the American dream, and poverty. It makes a great choice for a book club!
If you’re preparing for your next meeting, here are some thought-provoking book club questions for The Four Winds.
The Four Winds Book Club Questions
Let’s talk about Elsa’s family life before she leaves home. Her family don’t hold her in very high regard; they see her as frail and weak, keeping her locked in the house. They also tell her she is ugly. ‘She’d let that shame become a part of her, let it weave through her body and mind, become the connective tissue that held her together.’ (p.38)
What impact do their opinions have on Elsa throughout her life? Do you think she ever let these words go, or do you think she still carried their thoughts with her right until the very end?
Elsa meets a local boy, Rafe, and falls pregnant. She is taken in by Rafe’s family when her own family abandons her, but their relationship is rocky. Rafe’s mother, in particular, is not pleased with the situation, despite sympathising with Elsa.
What did you think of Elsa and her relationship with Rafe’s parents? Were you surprised at how close they became eventually?
Part of what helps Elsa to settle into the family is her ability to get stuck in and help around the farm. The land is a huge part of the story: her in-laws tend to their farm with pride and care, even after the land seems to turn against them later in the story.
What did you think of the local farmers and their deep love and respect for the land? Do you think it was difficult for them to make changes in their farming practices later in the book?
The Martinellis are incredible cooks when the farm produce is bountiful. Kristin Hannah paints a vivid description of dishes: fettuccine, arancini, stuffed zucchini flowers, and home-grown wine to go with it. Later, as the drought kicks in, food becomes scarce, and the situation worsens when Elsa and her children make it to California.
Why do you think food is so important to this story?
The family struggles desperately with the drought. Rafe and their daughter, Loreda, struggle with their emotions, and both want to escape. Meanwhile, Elsa and her in-laws hold onto the hope that rain will come. Eventually, Rafe leaves them in the middle of the night.
What did you think of Rafe’s decision to leave? What do you think happened to him, do you think he made it to California?
Elsa has to escape to California with her children and encounters many dangers.
Why do you think so many people believed life would be better in the west?
Loreda is a strong character; she is the one to shoot their ailing horse when no one else wants to do it, she is the one to defend her mother against an attacker on their gruelling journey to the west, and she is the one who is so keen to join the protests later in the book.
Where does Loreda get her strength from? What did you think of her growth as the book progresses?
The book focuses on the relationship between mothers and daughters. Elsa has a close relationship with her mother-in-law, Rose. However, her relationship with her own daughter, Loreda, is less straightforward. Elsa adores Loreda, but there is often a conflict running between them.
Why do you think this is? What did you think about Loreda’s thoughts about her mother in the last few pages of the book?
Elsa, Loreda, and Anthony make it to California, only to find the reception brutal. They settle at a refugee camp and have to deal with the locals treating them with suspicion and cruelty. Food is scarce, and disease runs rampant in the camps. They suffer a lot of heartbreak and loss here.
Why do you think the locals responded the way that they did? How do you think this stage of life impacted the children?
Right at the start of the book, we discover that Elsa is obsessed with books. ‘Books held the answer to every question.’ (p.12)
Later, Elsa passes this love of books onto her daughter, Loreda, presenting her with a library card for her birthday.
How do books help to keep both women going at desperate moments in their lives? How have books helped you to keep going in your life?
Elsa and her children escape a devastating flood at the refugee camp and settle in a cabin in return for cotton-picking duties. However, they quickly realise they are being exploited, and Elsa wonders how she can escape from the cruel and unreasonable farm owner Mr Welty.
Elsa’s situation mirrors many similar situations around the world faced by people living in poverty: it’s easy to fall into an exploitative system if you have no other options.
What did you think of the system Elsa found herself caught in? Can you think of modern-day systems similar to the situation the migrants found themselves in?
In the latter part of the book, Loreda meets Jack, a prominent figure in the Communist organization Workers United. This has a huge impact on all of them, particularly Elsa, who unexpectedly falls in love with him.
What did you think of Elsa and Jack’s love scene later in the book? Do you think it was an important moment for her?
The workers decide to strike, which causes a terrible chain of events, leading to a heartbreaking scene at the end of the book.
How did the last few chapters of the book impact you? Did you see Elsa’s fate coming, or were you surprised?
In a full-circle moment, Loreda, after returning to Texas with Anthony to be reunited with her grandparents, ends up returning to California to go to college. She’s proud of this moment: ‘The first Martinelli to go to college. A girl.’ (p.363)
How do you imagine Loreda’s future to be? Do you imagine she will settle in Texas again one day?
The book is based on real events: the Dust Bowl years occurred in the Prairies in the 1930s, causing death, loss of property, and mass displacement. The conditions faced by refugees were heartbreaking.
Did you know anything about the history behind this book? Do you think Hannah did a good job of bringing the setting and background to life?
Hopefully, these book club questions for The Four Winds will help to steer your next discussion! With so many interesting themes, The Four Winds is an excellent book club pick.
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Megan is a freelance writer based in Somerset, England. When she’s not writing about books, video games, and pop culture, she’s running around after her two kids and trying to squeeze in the occasional walk in the countryside.