“Blowing Away”

I recently finished listening to the audio version of Kristin Hannah’s latest novel, published in February 2021, The Four Winds. Sometimes writers can take actual historic events and place a character neatly in the center of them allowing the reader a first hand sense of the times. Hannah does this with this long novel set in the Dust Bowl years of the state of Texas in the early 1930’s. While I was aware in a general way of the devastating climate catastrophe of those years, I had only a cursory sense of what it would have been like to live then.

So taken was I by the novel that after I finished it I found and watched a four hour documentary by Ken Burns on the Dust Bowl. Here numerous images filled out the ones in my imagination created by my reading. The drought and blowing away of nearly 75% of the topsoil during the 1930’s covered 100,000,000 acres of the central United States. While the drought was a significant factor, the farming technique of deeply plowing the grasslands destroyed centuries of drought tolerant grass which had held the soil in place.

But of course we know so much more today! While we can comfort ourselves by knowing more about farming land not designed to grow certain crops, we are just as headstrong in this country about where we choose to live. Ignoring the reason people never lived in the desert, huge population growth has taken place in the southwest US draining the Colorado River, using up the aquifer and relying on electricity to cool homes where the summer heat is now hitting 120 degrees F.

Perhaps some fiction writer in the future will chronicle a single mother in Arizona trying to provide for her family in intolerable desert conditions. She can look back to Hannah’s account of a woman trying to do just that in Texas as the soil blew away.

26 thoughts on ““Blowing Away”

  1. Miranda Priestly:The devil Wears Prada”,what do you mean, I can’t get a flight, ANY flight?It’s only a little rain”This said to Andy her assistant during a major hurricane.Limitations!I think not.😘 Good stuff.Book sounds interesting.

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  2. It’s wonderful when a book makes you ‘be there’. Yes, makes, because the words are so compelling you have no other choice. The two things that I recall coming from the dust bowl are photography and Woodie Guthrie. Both brought a boon to the arts, and to making sure the dust bowl is never forgotten. It sounds like your book does the same. Great review, and thank you.

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  3. I read ‘The Worst Hard Time’ by Timothy Egan a few years ago describing the period in excruciating detail. Very powerful and informative. I also saw the Ken Burns documentary. (I love everything he does.) I’ll look for a copy of the latest Hannah book; I’m sure I’d enjoy it.

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  4. It wasn’t the dust bowl in the past or from the commentator about the changes to agriculture practices in the States but I’ve some smattering of history knowledge of China regarding their famines in earlier times. One of the worse happening was during one the ‘periods when the leader decided that sparrows were destroying the income/taxes’ eating the stored rice in the granaries. And “sparrows were to be killed” turned out actually the sparrows were eating the bugs and suddenly the bugs took over and the rice supplies dwindled – and the people had no food. Apparently it took decades before sparrows were seen all over China…

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    1. That is an amazing corollary to the experience in the midWest here. We see the same problem when any intervention made to solve one problem causes another, often worse.

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  5. Those Ken Burns documentaries are excellent. I haven’t seen the one you’re referring to, but I’ve gotten hooked on others.

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  6. I have always been fascinated by documentaries of the dust bowl era. Imagine, getting electrocuted in a dust storm by touching a plow as you walked past it.

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  7. We’ve been fascinated by the Dust Bowl – such an extraordinary calamity. A few years back, we did a road trip to parts of Oklahoma that were at the epicenter – amazing small town museums, collections of memories and keepsakes of all kinds, stories of how people tried to keep normal life going against all odds. Amazing time in our history.

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    1. You might appreciate the novel. She focuses on one particular woman but explores both the time in Texas, the dust pneumonia of her child which leads her to move to California and the dreadful conditions there.

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