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Does Elsa's Family Ever Find Rafe? The Four Winds Summary

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The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is a historical fiction book about the Dust Bowl in 1930s America. Here's what I learned from reading it.

The four winds summary.
updated on:
January 23, 2024

If you know me, you know that I live for a historical fiction book with complicated family dynamics, romance as a subplot, and some element of nature intertwined in the setting. No, seriously, my sister and I joke all the time how specific my favorite type of books are, so it is no wonder that I enjoy Kristin Hannah's writing

She knows how to transport me to a different world with her novels, and I love how many of her books depict strong women from different time periods and their various struggles. If you're not familiar with Kristin Hannah's work, her most popular book is probably The Nightingale which is about two sisters who grapple with the effects Germany's occupation of France during WWII.

I just finished The Four Winds today, so I thought I would sit down and write a little summary about the book and answer some commonly asked questions!

This post is all about the four winds summary.

What is The Four Winds about?

The Four Winds is about a family trying to survive the Dust Bowl, which caused dryness to farmlands in the plains of America in the 1930s. The main character Elsa must decide whether to migrate west in search of better opportunities for her family and leave the only land they've known behind, or stay and suffer the consequences of severe dust storms and no crops.

Where can I buy The Four Winds?

The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Buy on Amazon

"And she's done it again! Kristin Hannah has a way of taking me on a journey into the past and leaving me with feelings of shock, sadness, anger and more knowledge than I started with, but she's also a master at taking all of that and showing there are those who, with the courage, strength and resiliency to survive, can change their stories in history, even change history itself. Lift themselves up, carry on and show the strength of the pure human spirit when everything around them is in tatters."

*Please note: Spoilers ahead for The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.*

Who does Elsa marry in The Four Winds?

Elsa marries Rafe Martinelli, an 18 year old boy from a nearby town called Lonesome Tree. She initially meets Rafe when she tries to go to the town speakeasy in her red silk dress. They end up making love in an abandoned barn and are essentially forced to marry by Elsa's strict parents when they discover she is pregnant.

What happens to Rafe in The Four Winds?

Rafe and Elsa get married shortly after she finds out she is pregnant and Elsa moves in with the Martinelli family. Although there are moments of tenderness between the two, their marriage has prevented Rafe from escaping farm life and going to college. Initially Rafe expresses his desire to be a good husband and father, but the Dust Bowl further exasperates him, driving him to drink routinely and escape to the barn where he prefers to sleep.

He forms a strong bond initially with his daughter Loreda, but withdraws from his family and the farm as he grows more hopeless. Loreda sympathizes with her father and loves to dream with him about better places and bigger dreams they have for themselves. Elsa yearns for a better connection with Rafe but he keeps distance between them while her relationship with her in-laws grows stronger.

One day, Rafe asks Elsa to move with him to California to escape the dire conditions in Texas, but Elsa admits that the Martinellis will never leave their land and that California may not have as many opportunities as they advertise.

The next morning, the family wakes to Rafe missing, and after visiting the town, Elsa discovers he has abandoned the family.

Why does the Martinelli family decide to leave Texas?

Although Elsa tries to hold onto hope that the rains would return and their hardships in Texas would end, conditions only worsen and several town meetings confirm that top soil destruction has caused the intense dust storms that wracked the plains during this time.

Some part of her knows that things aren't much better in California, but when Anthony becomes sick with dust pneumonia, the town doctor urges Elsa to take him west for at least a year so he has a chance to improve. She feels she has no choice but to move out west, but her in-laws Rose and Tony decide to stay behind.

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Does Rafe ever come back?

One thing that many readers (including myself) hoped for in the book was for Rafe to come back or for Elsa/Loreda to find him in California. Of course, it never happens. We never learn what happened to Rafe, but the author notes that the Martinellis "see" him in all the drifters they encounter on their journey to California. We can deduce that he probably became one of the many men to abandon their families during this time and ended up aimlessly moving from place to place looking for work, or he died somewhere alone.

Is California better than Texas in the book?

When the Martinellis arrive in California, they soon find out that they have traded one set of problems for a different set. They are met with much prejudice from the California residents, and their hope fades as they realize competition for work is high and living conditions poor.

What happens to Elsa?

One of the saddest parts of the book is when Elsa is shot by Welty's workers during the cotton picking strike. She stays alive long enough to say some parting words to her children and her new love interest Jack before she passes away.

She died after standing up for her people and all the migrants that traveled to California from the plains, encouraging them to strike.

Does the family travel back to Texas?

During the epilogue, we find out that Loreda and Anthony travel back to Texas with their mom's body (with the help of Jack). After the government helped Tony and Rose repair the soil, they have fields of beautiful wheat and their hardships are over for the time being.

Elsa's body is buried in the family cemetery, and while Loreda is visiting her grave she reveals she is set to attend college.

Is The Four Winds historically accurate?

Kristin Hannah reveals that the book was based on the very real people that were forced to migrate to California in the hopes of a better life for their families during the Dust Bowl. Her and her husband did a lot of research for the book, but she also explains that the story does contain many fictionalized places and people modeled after real scenarios.

Is The Four Winds a sad story?

The Four Winds is a story about resilience, survival, love, and suffering. It's very sad, but also very hopeful. Kind of crazy how one story can be both at once, but it is definitely inspiring.

Is The Four Winds like The Grapes of Wrath?

The end of The Four Winds contains related reading that includes titles like The Grapes of Wrath. The stories are both about American families grappling with the effects of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl.

What do the 'Four Winds' mean?

Elsa describes the "four winds" at the end of the story as the forces that brought all of the migrants and their families to California. I interpreted this to mean the north, south, east, and west winds pushed them all together into the same scenario. They also brought hardship on the Martinelli family, but also brought them together in love.

If you like this post you may enjoy this post: 8 Page-Turning & Retro Books Like Malibu Rising That Will Get You Out Of A Reading Slump

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Does The Four Winds have a happy ending?

The Four Winds has both a sad ending and a happy ending. Although Elsa passes away at the age of 40, she is able to reconcile with Loreda beforehand and the epilogue reveals that Loreda is set to start college. Her and Ant move back to Texas where Rose and Tony end up with a thriving farm.

Will The Four Winds be turned into a movie?

As of now, The Four Winds has no movie plans in place, but Kristin Hannah is no stranger to her books being turned into films, she has plans to release The Nightingale as a major motion picture!

What are some books like The Four Winds to read next?

If you enjoyed The Four Winds, I would recommend reading some of Kristin Hannah's other titles. If you want to read more about this specific time period, I would recommend The Grapes of Wrath!

The Nightingale by Kristin Hannah

Buy on Amazon

"I cannot recommend this book highly enough. It had me reading till the early hours of the morning. Every emotion I have ever felt in my life is in this book."

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

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"This is the second time I read this book. It was just enjoyable the second time as the first time. It should read by every American to show the undying will to live under the most extreme measures."

The Great Alone by Kristin Hannah

Buy on Amazon

"Aside from The Nightingale, this is my favorite novel of hers. Hannah has a way of making any story about an average family feel so nostalgic and personal. You will fall in love with the characters, Alaska, and the power of the human spirit. This is a MUST READ."

More books to enjoy by Kristin Hannah:

This post was all about the four winds characters.

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