The Courier-Mail - QWeekend

Timely message in divisive world

Historical fiction can focus our attention on what unites us

- Story LEANNE EDMISTONE The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah, Pan Macmillan Australia, $33

American author Kristin Hannah has written 24 novels in her 30-year, best-selling career but she’s only just met her favourite character. Elsina “Elsa” Martinelli is a wife, mother and farmer living in 1934 Texas, struggling to support her family through the Dust Bowl, one of the darkest periods of the Great Depression and worst environmen­tal disaster in American history. Between 1934 and 1940, chronic drought and unsuitable farming practices saw severe dust storms – “black blizzards” or “black rollers” – cause extensive damage to the ecology and agricultur­e of American and Canadian prairies.

“Elsa came as quite a surprise to me. She was not originally in my idea for this novel, but once she arrived, I fell in love with her grit and her insecurity and her hidden dreams,’’ says

Hannah, 60, who lives with husband Benjamin and son Tucker on an island near Seattle on the US west coast.

“What I loved most about Elsa was her unwavering love for others and her hope for a better life. Her love for literature opened her eyes to the world around her. I love this story of an uncertain, unsure young woman finding her way in the world, finding the strength that comes with love and the courage that comes with motherhood. She

represents the best of the

Greatest Generation: people who came together to fight for a better life for their children.”

Emailing her responses while watching the inaugurati­on of President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, Hannah says historical fiction allows timely comment on the modern world. “As I learned more about the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, I was stunned by the hardships that had gripped (my) country and the way we not only survived but eventually thrived. It is a message we need to hear again in our fractured, divisive world.

“Here we are in the midst of a pandemic and the greatest economic downturn since the Great Depression. It’s important to remember, always, what unites us, rather than what divides us. That’s especially true now, when we must come together to protect each other.”

Hannah, a former lawyer who writes her books longhand with a “fine tip, gel pen on narrow-ruled yellow legal pads”, says exploring the past also allows the restoratio­n and celebratio­n of the lost stories of women, minorities and the disenfranc­hised.

“For too much of history, a small segment of the population was allowed to speak for everyone and to set the record for all of us,” she says. “But the truth is we all have stories to tell and messages to relay to the world. The greater inclusion of lost stories is one of the greatest movements of the past decade and I love it.’’

An adaptation of Hannah’s novel Firefly Lane, starring Katherine Heigl, is now screening on Netflix, and a film adaptation of The Nightingal­e, starring Elle and Dakota Fanning, is in production. “I’m just excited to see what the talented cast and crew have created,” she says.

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