By, Ken Follett; #2 in Century trilogy. Grade: A.
My first reaction to this book wasn’t positive. Not only because of the sheer size, but also because it’s the second book of a trilogy I hadn’t read. It had all the makings of a disaster. But even though I was intimidated, I couldn’t refuse a book that, for all other purposes, came across as a treat. Also I’ve been wanting to read Ken Follett for a while now, and this was a good opportunity.
Berlin in 1933 is in upheaval. Eleven-year-old Carla von Ulrich struggles to understand the tensions disrupting her family as Hitler strengthens his grip on Germany. Into this turmoil steps her mothers formidable friend and former British MP, Ethel Leckwith, and her student son, Lloyd, who soon learns for himself the brutal reality of Nazism. He also encounters a group of Germans resolved to oppose Hitler – but are they willing to go so far as to betray their country? Such people are closely watched by Volodya, a Russian with a bright future in Red Army Intelligence.
The international clash of military power and personal beliefs that ensues will sweep over them all as it rages from Cable Street in Londons East End to Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, from Spain to Stalingrad, from Dresden to Hiroshima.
At Cambridge Lloyd is irresistibly drawn to dazzling American socialite Daisy Peshkov, who represents everything his left-wing family despise. But Daisy is more interested in aristocratic Boy Fitzherbert – amateur pilot, party lover and leading light of the British Union of Fascists. Back in Berlin, Carla worships golden boy Werner from afar.
But nothing will work out the way they expect as their lives and the hopes of the world are smashed by the greatest and cruellest war in the history of the human race.
As I said, this book comes across as a treat (minus the size). The main reason is the author’s name, and contributing to that is the extremely well written blurb and the amazing cover: which makes sense on so many levels. I love the white and icy background suiting the title, with that clock. The time period that has been covered in the book speaks about Nazism and the second World War in great detail,, which was indeed the winter of the entire World what with the two world wars and the discovery of the atom bomb. Also, from what little I do know of history, the main reason Hitler lost to the Red Army was the terribly cold Russian Winter, so that also made the title very appropriate.
This book connects five families from completely different parts of the world, who’re all affected by what is going on in it. These are different people; in some cases, radically so; and they live in opposite ends of the world, but the book shows how war can never be good. The author weaves together the stories of all of these families, these people, over a certain time period, as one incredibly poignant tale.
I love the way the author wrote the book. In this sort of a story, which is not only long, but also about a handful of characters, it’s really very easy to loose connectivity along the way, but Mr. Follett managed to maintain it throughout, and I loved it.
I also liked the story line itself, and the fact that the author chose such widely different characters for telling this story.
When I read what was happening with one character, and then found out its effect on another character thousands of miles away, it put everything in perspective. I am marginally politically aware, to at least a national extent, and since my father is a history buff, I’m also marginally historically aware, but this book just makes all your ideas go for a toss. It forces you to don a different hat, think about something you thought you were pretty clear about from a completely different point of view, and contemplate whether you were and are correct or not. Then many things you already previously thought are reinforced more strongly than ever. It’s mentally exhausting, I tell you.
It was also interesting to read about the different characters having different political opinions and more importantly, their justifications for it. It was just very intriguing to be in the mind of somebody whom I’d disagree with, with all of my heart, if we ever met.
The only bad point that I thought the book had was the length. It tends to put off potential readers. And even once you do start reading, it does get boring once in a while. Also, the book is definitely, positively NOT universal. This one’s strictly for people who are politically aware and avid readers; you won’t be able to bear the book otherwise.
One other thing that I should mention is that the length of the book wouldn’t have perturbed me so much if it was all indispensable. But the fact is, a lot of the details could have been easily edited out, and that’s what I didn’t like. I mean really, did we need that much of detail? And the answer is No. Yes, No [Please ignore that lame attempt at pun].
Oh, and the names! How could I forget that? They annoyed the hell out of me! I could never, for the life of me, remember certain names of the supporting characters. And it did not help that they often came into the picture after long intervals, because of the number of characters, and those gaps made my memory more reluctant than ever. I had to sometimes turn back the pages [A lot of pages, trust me] to refresh my memory on what character had which back story.
PS: A word of advice to everyone who plans to read this: know your political terms, and do keep a dictionary handy for them. You’re definitely going to come across a few you didn’t know before.