A new year and a new Cannonball Read. Here’s my second go at 52!
Winter of the World by Ken Follett is the second book of the Century Trilogy. I wish I had a review of the first book, but in brief it chronicles the life of four families starting around the turn of the century up to the 1920s. These American, British, Russian, and German families are witnesses to and at times active participants in the world’s major events.
Book two takes us through the World War II and the 1940s with the same families and their offspring. Whereas I felt the first book was rushed in trying to cover so many years (without being over 1,000 pages), Follett seems to slow down a bit through this chronicle. Rather than skipping over several years as in the last book, the war years take several chapters each. The book and the reader benefits from this slower pace.
The difficulty of these books is that you have to suspend disbelief a bit when it comes to the intertwining lives of these characters. It just happens that members of these four families are direct witnesses to Pearl Harbor, the making of the atom bombs in both the US and the USSR, the rise of Hitler, the Battle of Midway, and more.
The biggest criticism of Follett’s writing is that his characters are one-dimensional. Some men are evil, do bad things, and get their comeuppance; some men are good, beaten up, suffer, but have a good life in the end, scarred but much wiser. The women especially tend to be either saints or tarts. However, his characters are a bit more complex in this book, especially the females, but they still serve mostly to encourage the action on or to serve as witness to events.
Having said that Follett can set a scene well and make it believable. He also knows how to give background information without it seeming stilted. While he will never be my favorite writer, his descriptions of Pearl Harbor and other battles were quite riveting page-turners and despite the length (almost 1,000 pages) I will return for the third book.
And speaking of that third book I’m really curious what he will cover. He calls it the century trilogy so I assumed he would go up to 9/11, but it seems his concern is more with the Cold War. Even so, 1950-1989?! That’s the same period of time covered in the first two books. So, you know where to find me next fall.
Historical fiction at its most magisterial. Don’t be afraid of its length as it has its gripping, page-turning moments. If you have wrist issues, I would get the eBook version. The hardback is quite a brick.