Winter of the World – Ken Follett
Ken Follett presents the 20th century; part two. It’s a blockbuster. It’s a big, fat book. All the required elements are present; evil incarnate, self-sacrificing heroics, political chicanery, personal ambition and sex. Lots of preoccupation with sex. It may be my personal bias, since I am the single parent of a 17-year-old boy, but my recurring thought as I read this 940 page tome, was “high school history”.
Follett continues the story told in Fall of Giants. Each of the five international families in the first book brings on its second generation. As in the first book, all of these families have members who play significant or supporting roles on the international stage. Follett places at least one character at most of the significant events from the Spanish Civil War to the formation of the United Nations. As a history lesson, told with plenty of up close and personal human interest, it works pretty well.
As literature…. well this is Follett, I wasn’t expecting great literary fiction, but I found the writing somewhat disappointing in any case. First, there are the coincidences of the half-brothers; opposite sides of the political spectrum, unlikely allies in the war. It’s a cliché to use it once; but twice in the same book? I could only laugh. A surprising number of his male characters fall in love with gorgeous women at first sight. But, although Follett says that his characters make love, he writes about sex. They have sex, which is described like the play by play description of a sports event. Definitely a male perspective, and in my opinion, lacking in finesse.
Follett does write heroic, admirable female characters. I like these women. They are strong, intelligent survivors. That is why I was disappointed and somewhat offended by his treatment of the post war Soviet occupation of Berlin. Given his previous descriptions of Nazi brutality, Follett gives a surprisingly banal description of the Soviet gang rape of one character. His subsequent statement that all of the female characters suffered rape by the Soviets, and their apparent acceptance of the fact with minimal trauma, is more than unrealistic. Atrocities of such magnitude should be treated as more than just a plot device.
I had both the printed and recorded version of this book. It was read by John Lee who is usually one of my favorite readers. In this case, I thought his reading was a bit monotonous and rushed. Much of that was, I think due to the nature of Follett's stilted prose. Even though Lee seemed to be rushing his narration, I found parts of the book moving too slowly. I turned to the print copy to move more quickly to the very clichéd ending.