REVIEW: The Four Winds

Set in the 1930s and telling the story of a family who fled Dust Bowl-ravaged Texas for California, The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah is not a comfortable book to read. That said, however, its descriptive prose and well-developed characters has the potential to draw readers in, and certainly kept me turning to the next page. Furthermore, despite the immense pain contained in the book’s pages, there is also an undercurrent of hope and survival, making it a worthwhile read in the current times. At over four hundred pages long, it is an excellent book for summer reading.

Elsa Martinelli, the main character of the book, is a woman who does not know her strength. As a young girl, a heart condition kept her from participating in many activities. Her family treated her as weak and as an outsider, and the resulting feelings of inadequacy haunted Elsa in a failing marriage and into middle age. However, she rises from these ashes to find family in her children and mother- and father-in-law, whom she fights fiercely for. This fierce love leads her to make one of the toughest decisions of all – to leave the Texas farm that is her family’s livelihood, but where everything is dying as a result of the dust storms, in search of a better future for her children.

However, life is not automatically better in California. Although the Martinellis escape the dust and its associated health consequences, work is hard to come by. Migrants fleeing the dust storms, referred to by California locals by derogatory terms such as “Okies” or “your kind,” were forced to live in inhumane tent camps, scraping together money to afford the most necessities. Though the story takes place nearly a century ago, it is hard to read it and not draw comparisons to the treatment of twenty-first century immigrants and refugees. So much progress has been made in so many areas since then, and yet we still tolerate, and even perpetrate, the same gross violations of human rights and dignity:

“Elsa couldn’t believe people lived this way in California. In America. These folks weren’t bindle stiffs or vagabonds or hobos. These tents and shacks and jalopies housed families. Children. Women. Babies. People who had come here to start over, people looking for work.”

However, fortunately, the human spirit also remains today as it did in the 1930s. In the Author’s Note, Kristin Hannah observes that strength can be drawn from others’ persistence in past hardships and applied to current struggles like the pandemic: “We’ve gone through bad times before and survived, even thrived. History has shown us the strength and durability of the human spirit. In the end, it is our idealism and our courage and our commitment to one another – what we have in common – that will save us.”

Even when things kept getting worse for the Martinelli’s when it seemed as though it was already as bad as it could get, they held onto one another, to friends, and to hope for better days. That is a message well worth four hundred pages.

 

REVIEW: Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile

Despite being familiar with Brandi Carlile’s music, her new book Broken Horses took me by surprise. Generally, I would expect memoirs by artists to be enjoyable, perhaps gratuitous, for fans, but Broken Horses is, I daresay, of a different breed. It is impressive in its wisdom and authenticity, and a book that I would recommend regardless of whether the reader has listened to Carlile’s music.

The book chronicles Carlile’s life and development as an artist through present-day, and is punctuated by song lyrics (Carlile’s, as well as other songs and artists mentioned in the prose, including the Indigo Girls, Elton John, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, and others) and annotated photos. It is part narrative and part introspection, and it is self-deprecating, humorous, and raw.  The cast of characters is extensive, anchored in the center by Carlile’s musical “family,” including her bandmembers Phil and Tim, her wife, Catherine, and two daughters.  It is a vivid portrait of a human being who also happens to be a GRAMMY-winning singer-songwriter.

Broken Horses also traverses a wide range of themes in its three hundred pages: family, friendship, sexuality, religion, forgiveness, and many others. Carlile offers her thoughts and experience of each, without pretending to have all the answers. One of my favorite passages in the entire book is in relation to the genesis of the 2018 album By the Way, I Forgive You. In addition to its insight (even in its admission of lack of insight), it also, in my opinion, captures the essence of Broken Horses as a whole:

“Before I start sounding too earnest, understand that I wasn’t “teaching” forgiveness. I was and still am learning it. I’m not evolved. I’m as much a part of the problem as every other person in the world. This isn’t wisdom or insight, it’s a work in progress and it never did come from me. It came from our parents and grandparents. Our flawed heroes and our favorite TV shows. We were just playing dress-up and trying forgiveness on like a costume. We intend to learn these lessons over and over again the hard way for as long as we’re human. If you want the real thing 100 percent pure, the Everclear …you should talk to Lazarus.”

-Brandi Carlile, Broken Horses (2021), Chapter 17: By The Way

Quite fittingly, I would describe Broken Horses as a song above anything else (which makes sense, considering the author). It is a song of the human experience, and one that is not to be missed.

PREVIEW: Broken Horses by Brandi Carlile

If you are a fan of the music of GRAMMY Award-winning singer-songwriter Brandi Carlile, you won’t want to miss out on her new memoir, Broken Horses. Released in April 2021, the book recounts the events that have shaped her life thus far, as well as her path to becoming the musician that she is today.

Hardcover copies of Broken Horses can be purchased from your local bookstore (such as Literati if you’re in Ann Arbor) or checked out from your local library.

REVIEW: The War and Treaty Livestream

Husband and wife musical duo The War and Treaty, comprised of Michael and Tanya Trotter, presented a livestream last weekend that was a musical bright spot in today’s internet landscape. Performed real-time from their living room in front of a cozy stone fireplace, the evening also featured Max Brown on bass (who is originally from Ann Arbor!!) and Bam Holmes on drums.

The program, which seemed to be decided in the moment (which was especially refreshing, given that so many performances are pre-recorded given the current circumstances), included songs from The War and Treaty’s most recent album, Hearts Town, as well as new and never-before-performed songs written since the onset of the pandemic. Indeed, they noted that they have created tens of new songs in the last year, which is good news for fans of The War and Treaty hoping for new music in the coming months.

The performance itself reflected the times that we are living in – restless with everything being through a screen – and yet, it was also overwhelmingly joyous. On multiple occasions, the duo remarked on the loss of live, in-person performances, and especially of missing hugging fans. However, even through the computer, traces of these connections were palpable, in the Trotter’s clear love of the music (and in the active chat during the performance).

The War and Treaty’s music transcends categorization, fusing jazz, soul, folk, blues, and other influences into a result that is a treat for the ears. During the livestream, I was particularly struck by each song’s ability to conjure an atmosphere, in which even watching alone at home, the music brought the sights and sounds of long road trips, or crowded restaurants, or gatherings with friends into view in my mind’s eye. Perhaps it was just the fact that these scenes seem like distant memories a year into the pandemic, but it was nevertheless fascinating to me how on multiple occasions, listening to the music transported me out of my physical space and into seemingly far-off places.

My only disappointment regarding the livestream was that at just an hour long, it was on the shorter side for a ticketed performance – good, perhaps, for the screen fatigued, but a little sad given that I was enjoying the excellent music!

Overall, The War and Treaty put on a great virtual concert, and I would recommend their music to anyone who is not yet familiar with it! I hope that someday, when it is safe again, I will be able to experience their music live and in person.

PREVIEW: The War and Treaty Livestream

Join musical duo The War and Treaty for a livestreamed virtual concert on Saturday, March 20 at 8pm EDT!

The War and Treaty, which is comprised of husband and wife Michael Trotter, Jr. and Tanya Blount, is originally from Albion, Michigan. They defy the boundaries of genre, and their sound is a blends folk, blues, gospel, and other musical influences. The War and Treaty also performed at the 44th Ann Arbor Folk Fest, and I am especially excited for this concert after their awesome performance there!

Tickets are available at https://sessionslive.com/warandtreaty/tickets. Additionally, to learn more about The War and Treaty, visit https://www.thewarandtreaty.com/.

PREVIEW: The Four Winds by Kristin Hannah

Newly released this year, Kristin Hannah’s novel The Four Winds has already garnered critical acclaim and a place on bestseller lists. It is a story of the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl, and of America and difficult choices. I am particularly excited to read this new book because I enjoy a good historical fiction novel.

Check out The Four Winds from your local library, or if you would like to purchase a copy, visit your local book store. In Ann Arbor, The Four Winds can be found at Literati Bookstore (where it recently earned the distinction of Staff Pick).

Happy reading!