The author on releasing a book set in the Great Depression during a new economic crisis
Kristin Hannah, author of iconic titles like The Nightingale, is back in the spotlight with a new release, The Four Winds. Already an NYT, USA Today, and WSJ best-seller, it’s a beautiful story about loss and resilience. Also, in 2021, as we experience fallout from the coronavirus pandemic, it’s a painstakingly relevant look at the Great Depression, an American crisis of an earlier time. (On top of all this, her book Firefly Lane was just adapted into a popular Netflix series starring Katherine Heigl and Sarah Chalke!)
We turned to Hannah to talk about all the recent acclaim! She told us about the inspiration behind The Four Winds, what she hopes it signifies about the American dream, and what it was like to watch Firefly Lane come to life.
What was your original impetus for writing the Four Winds?
About seven years ago I wrote a book called The Nightingale, which was about the women of the French resistance during World War II. As I started talking to readers about that book, I really understood how much they loved hearing women’s stories from a historical perspective.
I wanted to write a truly, deeply American story, and tell it through a woman’s eyes. That led me to the Great Depression, which was a time of such great hardship, and the Dust Bowl, a time when so many people were struggling just to stay alive and keep their family farms. We hadn’t read that story about women and I wanted to reclaim this era of history.
What was the perspective you were hoping to show about being a woman at this time?
Women’s roles are constantly evolving and expanding, but we still have a long way to go. During this time period, women were expected to marry young, have families, and support their husbands, emotionally, but not necessarily financially.
I wanted to tell this story about a woman who had been raised to do all that, while also being told she didn’t have much value as a human being.
So the main character, Elsa, who feels that she has so little value, learns over the course of time and through adversity, that she is strong and powerful. She becomes kind of a warrior and finds her voice and is able to stand up, not just for herself and her children, but for others who are afraid to speak out for themselves.
I think it’s really important to remind readers, especially young women of how courageous women have been in the past and how strong we can be.
What do you think the novel illustrates about the American Dream?
This is a country founded on the idea of equality, democracy, freedom, and liberty.
But the American dream, and its promise of opportunity, isn’t the same for all people. The novel shows both the American dream from the perspective of immigrants who came to this country in the late 1800s, and settled and became farmers, as well as the story for the people during the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, who went West to find better lives and found that it wasn’t easy.
How do you think this story of a different economic crisis in American history might resonate today when millions of people are out of work due to the pandemic?
When I started writing the book four years ago, I had no idea it would come out in the middle of a pandemic and the greatest economic downturn in a generation, and that it would be as relevant on that level as it is. I think that the bottom line is that history repeats itself. What’s past is prologue and whatever is going on in the world, you can almost always look back to history and find another time and another place that has went through, whatever it is we’re going through at the moment, and learn something from it hopefully.
What I try to do with my fiction is really plant the reader firmly in that time period and make them feel and think about what it would have been like. The most important thing about The Four Winds coming out right now is that at a time when we are facing great adversity and great hardship. So many of our friends and neighbors are in need, and it’s a great thing to be able to remind people that we have been through hard times before. We have survived and we have ultimately thrived. We will get through these dark days as well, and we will survive and thrive again.
I recently watched ‘Firefly Lane’ on Netflix! I love your ability to craft these really interesting, relatable characters. What was it like seeing your work adapted for a T.V. series?
It was the most amazing and remarkable experience to be a part of the Firefly Lane Netflix production! I was able to go on set and meet all of the actors, a lot of the crew, the directors, and the writer, and they were all so welcoming.
It was just really a fun experience for me. As a television viewer, I loved seeing the final product. I loved seeing a story that was focused on female friendship, because I don’t think that happens all that often. It allowed me in a way to become a fan of my own work for the first time!
What are you reading right now?
This interview was edited and condensed.
Written and reported by Weekend Editor Amanda Svachula.