Archive for the ‘Dust Bowl’ Tag

Unlearned Lessons from the Past   Leave a comment

Although I’ve only read a few of Kristen Hannah novels, it’s clear she does her homework. This is true whether the novel’s setting is France during World War II, Leningrad or the Pacific Northwest; her writing evokes a strong sense of time and place.  The Four Winds, set in the 1930s Dust Bowl era, is no exception. Hannah’s work also features strong, independent women; here Elsa Wolcott follows the pattern.

At 25 Elsa is considered past her prime as a marriage candidate. When she meets Rafe Martinelli, seven years her junior, her life changes.  With no intention of a marrying Elsa, Rafe has no choice when she becomes pregnant.

By the 1930s, Elsa has settled in on the Martinelli farm, which in Northern Texas  does not escape the devastation of the drought and dust storms that wreaked havoc across the Great Plains. Rafe abandons Elsa, their two children and his parents. Eventually, Elsa makes the trek to California, where word has it life is better.

Hannah’s vivid descriptions of the poverty, prejudice and injustices faced by the flood of migrants could easily, and unfortunately, be applied today. Elsa and her children aren’t immune to the incivilities, but the family’s relationships grow stronger in its struggle to find a better life.

The weakest element of the narrative is the insertion of efforts by union organizer Jack Valen. He comes across as the hero the family, and all farm workers, need. Yet, in some ways this negates Elsa’s intelligence and inner strength.

The Four Winds

Four Bookmarks

St. Martin’s Press, 2021

454 pages

Nothin’ But Net and Grit   Leave a comment

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Dust Bowl Girls by Lydia Reeder focuses on a group of young women from various parts of rural Oklahoma in the early 1930s. It’s been call the counterpart to Daniel James Brown’s The Boys in the Boat in that it highlights overcoming adversity. Whereas the boys rowed their way to fame in the 1936 Olympics, the young women are basketball players. Their glory was limited to a championship season. As Reeder recounts, however, what a season it was!

In addition to profiles of the players and coach, the author provides vivid descriptions of the hardscrabble era, a history of women’s basketball, and attitudes toward women sports in general. For instance, the sport was considered unladylike. This was reflected in the rules governing uniforms and rules. Although it’s interesting, these aspects are frequently repeated, with little variation. Consequently, it appears as padding more than insightful content.

What may be most striking is that the women, most in their late teens, played for the Oklahoma Presbyterian College Cardinals on full scholarships. Many were farm girls, whose families would not otherwise have been able to afford to send them to college. Their basketball skills were often gleaned on dirt patches; these were strong, talented players.

During the Depression era, it was common for businesses to sponsor women’s teams as promotional enterprises. The Cardinals faced opponents from other small schools and non-academic teams. Olympic medalist, and later women’s golf pro, Babe Didrikson was a member of the latter. Hers was the team to beat.

Dust Bowl Girls
Three and three-quarter Bookmarks
Algonquin Books, 2017
286 pages, including epilogue and notes