Claire's Reviews > Winter of the World

Winter of the World by Ken Follett
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Feb 13, 13

This is the second in Follett’s historical fiction “Century Trilogy”. The first took us through the First World War, this is about the Second World War, and presumably the next will take us until the end of the century. I am not sure if I will read the third book. I would be lying if I did not say that I was disappointed by this book. I loved The Pillars of the Earth, and was hoping this would be as good. With hindsight, this could never have been as good as that. In 940 heavy pages Follett has tried to tell the story of the single biggest event that has happened to the world in living memory from the perspective of four nations. It stands to reason that he would not be able to handle the characters as well or tell the story with such depth.

As always, with Ken Follett’s historical fiction, I did learn quite a lot. I learnt a bit more about what Churchill may have been truly like. In particular, I knew very little of the American involvement in the Second World War. After the bombing of Pearl Harbour and the Battle of Midway the world realised that the Pacific war would be won by planes launched from aircraft-carrying ships. In the year or so that followed Japan produced seven of these huge, costly vessels, and the US produced ninety. This could have been the beginning of the US deciding it ought to be the World Police. The bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki could not have helped.

This book picks up where the last one left off. We being with the main characters from the last book, all grown up and their children almost grown. Europe is heading down a slippery slope to war as the story gets going. The book is well-researched, and it’s a good introduction to World War II history. There are a couple of families in the US, one in Russia, a couple in Germany, and a working class and an upper class family in Britain.

In order to tell the story in as thorough manner as possible, and presumably to keep the cast of characters to an easy-to-follow number, Follett invents the most ridiculous and, at times, cringe-worthy coincidences. For example; back in Russia in the ’20s, a princess’ father ordered the death of a boy who grew up to move to America, whose daughter moves to England and there they both meet that princess as an adult, who is soon to become the mother-in-law of the American girl. The Russian man lets it be known that he remembers the princess from 20 years ago, but nobody mentions the gazillion-to-one chance of them bumping in to each other again, let alone becoming family.

It is a very small world in Follett’s imagination, and his characters are present at every major event in the War, if not responsible for quite a lot of world-changing decisions. For example, persuading the US president to go to war, inventing the League of Nations, witnessing the bombing of Pearl Harbour (one character does all these things) and providing the intelligence to create an atomic bomb. A friend warned me of this in advance of reading the book, so I had decided not to let it annoy me, after all, he had to do it to tell the story. He uses his small cast of German characters to show us Nazi persecution of the disabled, homosexual and Jewish, and anyone who gets in their way. His characters are all very busy during the war, and heavily involved in just about every major part of it. But, really, I think Follet could have just decided not to tell this story, he ought to have realised that it was too big to tell to an intelligent adult audience. Maybe he should have just picked one country and told a very good story, rather than doing this and telling a very big story.

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message 1: by Ewa (new) - rated it 2 stars

Ewa 100% my thoughts!

Shasta Patterson Hmm, interesting points. I enjoyed the story due to my ignorance of WWII other than the nazis. I get a little dulled by the "and there were nazis"....ok, and... However, it is interesting that you point out another annoyance of mine that I now "overlook" because the last handful of authors have done it...that is the if the plot takes place during JFK era, the character was there to witness it, etc. Another book had the character going to see the Beatles in London because he happened to be living there. Just because it took place in a particular year, we all didn't see Ricky Martin perform La Vida Loca because it was the song of the year ten years ago. We weren't there and it didn't impact our lives. And that they had to work in gay soldiers...or an AIDS patient, etc, etc...I also found the intermingling of characters to be unrealistic. The two brothers being involved in the Russian spy issue.

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