This is the first Ken Follett that I have picked up, and I must say that it was a great choice. The author has considerable skill in putting together a great story, and keeping you glued to the pages… Winter of the world is the second novel in the century trilogy, and covers the period from 1933 to 1945. It follows the Spanish civil war, onto the Second World War and its intrigues, political background and developments. It is this storyline, somewhat along historical fiction lines, that attracted me to the novel in the first place. No regrets, since the novel is well worth the money. And importantly, it has little links with the previous novel, which means you can read it as a standalone as well!
(Way too many to put ’em all here, sorry!!!!! But I’ll touch on the ones who impressed me the most)
Think I am exaggerating? Well, FYKI I am not exaggerating. There are at least 92 characters. Yup. All of 92.
Daisy Peshkov: Gutsy, brave – in a different way, not sweet – but not sour, a person in search…
Joanne Rouzroukh: Heart-breaker – but not the way you might think
Earl Fitzherbert: Snooty- the quintessential self-important English nobleman. Not nice
Lloyd Williams: The frontispiece of the novel, bar one
Maude von Ulrich: Mature
Erik von Ulrich: Confused, wayward, always running in the wrong direction
Carla von Ulrich: The frontispiece and the peice-de-resistance of the novel, bar none
Lev Peshkov: Money machine. Period.
There are others who are equally important – perhaps more. But these listed above are the ones to impress me the most, and leave a lasting impression on my mind…
The plot follows five inter-twined familes: American, German, Russian, English and Welsh over the period of turmoil in Europe. The story of the Second World War is told through these families, some of whose members are in significant positions of power or money – or indeed, both. These families are placed such that through their travails one can see the entire history of that period unfold in front of your eyes. That is what makes it an enthralling novel – but more of that later. It follows the sequence of events that lead upto the War through the eyes of The German family (Ulrich) and the English /Welsh Families (Fitzerbert, Williams / Williams), the American saga through the Peshkovs and the Dewars, The Russian coverage through the Peshkovs. The novel goes right on upto the decisions to bomb Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the resultant start of the Cold War.
The storyline is so superbly put together that the reader gets almost a ringside view of the world as the events leading upto the Second World War unfold. The truth blends into fiction virtually effortlessly and takes you deep into the forefront of politics, giving you a ringside view. The implied, and at times explicit references to real characters like Churchill, Truman and Roosevelt add authority to the storyline, enabling it to carry conviction. There is not a single point in the novel that you feel is fictional, so true has the author been to established history.
The novel is rather long, at 900+ pages. Despite this uncomfortable length, it does not lose its pace anywhere. Not only that, the reader does not feel the need to go back a few pages to check the flow of the story, and refresh facts. This has been achieved, in my opinion, by the simple expedient of using established history and historical events, combined with a rapid pace. The combination of the two ensures that the reader does not lose track anywhere. Startlingly (considering its length), the book is a page-turner.
The characters grow on you, and you begin to empathise with them. The immersion of the reader into the novel and the story is a tribute to the skill of the writer. Character Development is outstanding, as it would have to be to attain reader interest and eyeballs. The author has the luxury of space, with the book being all of 900 pages long – despite this, the characterisation does not linger needlessly, and neither has any needless detail been included.
All in all, the novel is an eminently readable book. Further, it enables you to understand the ground situation as it existed during those tumultuous years, as it is not a history books. It enables you to estimate what the reality must have been like, since it is told through the eyes of citizens. The unfolding panorama takes you deep into history, and leaves you richer for the experience! It does not require a reading of the prior book of the series – each novel is independent. At least, I did not feel the need for it. It is a fast read, and easy to follow – and enthralling! 4.5 stars out of 5!