Winter World: book review

For a good read about the Second World War, you cannot beat Ken Follett. this is the second in his century trilogy. Someone please tell me when the third book is out.

Title: Winter World
Author: Ken Follett
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: not sure
Spoiler Alert: Not really 

 

The second book in Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy is as much a page-turner as the first. Winter World continues the story where Fall of Giants left off, following four families as they live through one disaster (the First World War) to the next (the Second World War).

Follett personalizes the wars by bringing them up close and personal with those who had to live them. The British and Welsh family, the Germans, the Russians and the Americans – all intertwined in relationships, political intrigues and events that seem to spiral out of control.

I think one of the reasons we like to (need to) read historical fiction is to try and understand our past – how our ancestors lived, what formed their characters and what led to the way we are today. And though Follett’s stories are classed as fiction, one can easily read between the lines, knowing truth is stranger –and maybe even harsher – than fiction; hence what happens to Follett’s characters can easily be imagined as happening to people who lived through the wars.

Another reason to study history is to understand the political system that shaped us. And when you look back at the brutal Fascist and Soviet regimes, you wonder how anyone survived. It has certainly given me a brief look into the “genetics” if you will of people I know who came out of Russia or Nazi Germany or the rigid British stiff upper lips. Even the Amercians – although Follett tends to paint them in a tenderer light than the others.

In Follett’s Century Trilogy (the third book is to come), the British are archaic, the Germans brutal and the Russians, barbaric. The Americans come across as the nice-guys out to save the world; which they do, practically single-handedly without anybody else’s help. But isn’t that the way the U.S. media has recorded the past century?

In some ways, Follett really gets it right, describing situations and events that likely happened to thousands of people. He has a way of writing from within each character’s mind. It’s unique, as you get to see the thought processes behind their actions. And though not always pretty, one can almost be sympathetic.

What is clear is that human kind didn’t learn much from the First World War and didn’t improve on it much after the Second.

The third book in the trilogy isn’t out yet (at this writing). At least, I haven’t seen it. But I expect it will take us through the second half of the century and I’d half-bet Follett will begin it in the 60s, taking us through Women’s Liberation (it was a pretty major theme in both books) into the Vietnam War (Follett seems to like writing war scenes) and then maybe all the way up to Desert Storm. However, it will be interesting to see how he’d incorporate an Arab/Muslim family into the mix. But now I’m just speculating.

Anyway, the second book (according to my Kobo reader) took another 30 hours out of my life – added to the 29 hours for the first book. At $20 a pop, it was close to 60 hours of heart-stopping entertainment. Looking forward to Book 3.

 

Fall of Giants

Book Review
Title: Fall of Giants
Author: Ken Follett
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2010
Spoiler Alert: Not really

If one calculates a good book by how much reading time one gets for the money, then Ken Follett novels really rate at the top. And this one, Fall of Giants, had me mesmerized for a week (29 hours of reading time according to Kobo).

The story winds around four families: the rich aristocratic Brit, owner of a mine in Wales and his sister the Suffragette; a mining family, the father a union activist, daughter a servant at the nobleman’s house and her brother, a miner-become-soldier. Then there are the Russians – two brothers who complicate each other’s lives in unimaginable ways; the German aristocrats and a family of Washington elites. Although worlds apart, their stories weave together like a tight-knit tapestry.

Set during the decade of the Great War from 1911 to the early 1920s, the story delves into every aspect of the war – from the poor peasants, to the German soldiers, to the Russian front, and to the Americans – each with their own set of circumstances. But what really sets it apart from other rambles about the war is Follett’s ability to bring us right into the homes, boardrooms and bedrooms of his characters and into an era of class system and female subjugation. While keeping close to the facts, with a good sprinkling of real historical characters, the writer provides a real taste of what it must have been like to be a Welsh miner, a Russian peasant, or one so immersed in bondage to tradition that they allow it to bury their own humanity.

The only things I can’t figure out are: how did Follett not take an entire lifetime to write it and how could he not have spent an entire lifetime living it?

What a story! Nothing I have ever read before has made me change my political views more than this story. And maybe it was about time. Continue reading

Lustrum

Book Review

Title: Lustrum
Author: Robert Harris
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2009
Spoiler Alert: No

If you’d like to transport yourself back to ancient Rome but don’t own a time machine, then Robert Harris’s Lustrum is your best bet.

Lustrum is the second book (of which is promised to be a trilogy) following the life of Marcus Tullius Cicero. The first book, Imperium, should be read before Lustrum, but it isn’t necessary to follow the story.

Cicero was a lawyer and orator who lived between 106 and 43 BC, when the government of Rome was rife with corruption, bribery, ill-morals, social climbers, greedy power seekers and people who slept with other peoples’ wives. Continue reading

Rutherfurd’s New York

Book Review

Title: New York, the Novel
Author: Edward  Rutherfurd
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 2009
Spoiler Alert: No

 

When I sat down to read Edward Rutherfurd’s epic historical piece on New York, I half-expected a text-book study on all the major events in that city’s history over the past three hundred years. I figured if I didn’t like it, at least I could use it as a door-stop.

I was prepared to sifon through its thousand-plus pages: the Dutch colonials, the Depression, the wars, immigration and every other event in American history; and even prepared to fall into boredom. I mean, how can one keep a single family or two interesting for centuries if they aren’t royals?

Surprisingly, Rutherfurd does it quite well. He keeps the story moving by periodically, like a ghost, dropping in and out of the  lives of ordinary people. It’s as if he threw darts at a calendar, picking up wherever his characters, or their descendants might be; then weaving their personal stories around each other and whatever hurricane of circumstances might be happening right then. But he doesn’t ignore major events entirely, only how what is happening outside affects people inside: their homes and their hearts. I liked how he had real people like Abraham Lincoln, General Lee, Caruso, Winston Churchill, the Astors, J.P. Morgan, Hemingway and Ansel Adams, to name a few, either walk right into the story or appear as distant entities who touched the lives of his characters. Continue reading

The Morning River – a review

Book Review 

Title: The Morning River
Author: W. Michael Gear
Genre: Historical Fiction
First published: 1996
Spoiler Alert: Possibly 

Set in 1825, this story ticks all the boxes for anyone with interest in the fur trade, the Midwest, Indians, and/or the early part of the 19th century.

It is about a young man who is kidnapped by a group of fur traders who sell people into service in order to make their quotas in the Great Missouri Wilderness. Continue reading