Five stars (of five)
Follett continues his epic Century Trilogy with the middle instalment. The journey resumes with the story of five interrelated families—American, German, Russian, English, Welsh— as they progress through a time of enormous social, political, and economic uncertainty. While Hitler and Franco push fascist regimes onto their respective populations, Stalin holds firm to the reins of power in Communist Russia, and Roosevelt is accused of being too leftist with his New Deal. Follett’s characters, dominated by a new generation tell of trying times in a period of drastic change, which will shape them and their subsequent offspring. Carla von Ulrich, half German and half English, finds her life engulfed by the Nazi tide, but refuses to stand down, while facing her worst fears. Woody and Chuck Dewar, sons of now US Senator Gus Dewar, harbour dark secrets while playing key roles for the United States in the war effort. Lloyd Williams discovers that the Spanish Civil War highlights problems with both Communism and Fascism, but also makes some important self-truths sure to unsettle his entire familial structure. Daisy Peshkov climbs society in both America and England until the war transforms her life and changes her outlook on life. Finally, Volodya Peshkov rises in Soviet intelligence and helps solidify the Red Army’s hold on Eastern Europe before a secret threatens to pull everything apart. Follett is a master storyteller and uses these vessels to tell one of the most historically varied and interesting stories I have ever read.
While the story is long and the details are plentiful, one cannot simply ignore the amount of history that took place over the 16 year arc depicted in the novel.
These were key years in the 20th century and Follett has taken many of the lesser discussed events, weaving the characters into the historical cracks. While some may lament the need to go into as detailed a narrative as is presented, it serves to distract (if I may be so bold as to use the word) from the well-known historical horrors taking place at that time. I have read too much on the Nazis related to this time period, so it was nice to see Follett expanding the possible historical threads on offer. The reader cannot lose sight of the trilogy nature of the story, forcing storylines on many levels to develop in offshoots not easily predicted, which keeps the story’s momentum.
Kudos Mr. Follett for this powerful instalment. As you created gold with your Kingsbridge books, this series is sure to be sensational and I cannot wait to see how you tie all these families together in the final instalment!