This novel picks up right where the first book left off, as its five interrelated families, American, German, Russian, English, Welsh, enter a time of enormous social, political, and economic turmoil, beginning with the rise of the Third Reich, through the Spanish Civil War and the great dramas of World War II, up to the explosions of the American and Soviet atomic bombs. Carla von Ulrich, born of German and English parents, finds her life engulfed by the Nazi tide until she commits a deed of great courage and heartbreak.. American brothers Woody and Chuck Dewar, each with a secret, take separate paths to momentous events, one in Washington, the other in the bloody jungles of the Pacific. English student Lloyd Williams discovers in the crucible of the Spanish Civil War that he must fight Communism just as hard as Fascism. Daisy Peshkov, a driven American social climber, cares only for popularity and the fast set, until the war transforms her life, not just once but twice, while her cousin Volodya carves out a position in Soviet intelligence that will affect not only this war, but the war to come. These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as their experiences illuminate the cataclysms that marked the century. From the drawing rooms of the rich to the blood and smoke of battle, their lives intertwine, propelling the reader into dramas of ever increasing complexity.
This book is the second of a Trilogy of the 20th century. At 940 pages this book is a weighty tomb that primarily covers the exciting Second World War period.
As a wannabe history buff, and having read many Follett books that I always enjoyed and admired I unfortunately quickly tired on this one. The preceding book based around the First World War called “Fall of Giants” I had greatly enjoyed, see my review of same. Moreover Follett is a great story maker as can be verified if one reads any of his 20 or so spy thrillers. The historical research of the time lapse has always sated my interest. Follett generally employs a New York research group that I believe adds a great dimension to so many of Follett’s great books.
However this particular book I thought was somewhat light on history and long on character embellishments. In short this book in my view was more of a “soap-opera”, long on soap and short on opera! In other words this book was too involved in the sexual antics of the fictional characters at the expense of more extensive historical setting details.
The history that did appear in the book’s timeline was excellent but left one wanting so much more. This book, in common to the first book in the sequence, involved over approximately 100 characters. The years covered span 1933 to 1950. The timeline is readily followed as each chapter represents a given year and with certain years appropriately sub-divided into sequential parts, such as 1944 and other busy war years.
Towards the final chapters more history than soap is covered and so towards the close of this book I started again to enjoy the history. For instance the UK General Election of July 1945 begins to have some historical detail of great interest. I particularly appreciated the party membership break-outs which included one seat won by the Communist party in the London district of Stepney! However we Brits are also interested in the swing vote tallies (percentage change between elections).
The final chapters set up the scenario for the final trilogy volume covering the main life-line feature of anyone currently over age 50, namely the Cold War. The start of the atomic era is included with a great overview concerning the politics of that era and the ensuing Cold War that was the most significant outcome of the Second World War
OK, maybe I have warmed-up to this soap and might therefore read Follett’s final sequel after all!
Unfortunately my knowledge of both these times in history is quite poor so I wouldn't be able to pick out the difference between the actual historical facts and the fiction that Follett weaves together, but he does it in a way that, to me, flows more like fiction than fact.
I probably would have given this novel a higher star rating but I felt it was way too long. 940 pages probably could have been skimmed down by at least a hundred, although it didn't feel like it dragged too much. Overall a very decent and enjoyable read, but a time commitment!
With so many characters so widely scattered across the globe it's a tough ask to make each scenario as interesting as the next and I don't think he quite pulls it off (he got away with it perhaps in the first book because of the novelty of it).
I'm not looking forward so much to the third as I was for the second - but I may end of reading it anyhow.
As with any work of this nature, there were times when I felt Follett left out major historical events such as the experiences of the working class during the Great Depression that followed WW I, and the experiences of the Jews during the Holocaust, but one must pick and choose with a work of this great a time span. Follett's emphasis seems to be the political implications of the choices made during this time period.
Also, while Follett is a great story teller, there were times when I felt the dialogue among the characters seemed forced and places where I wanted the story line to delve into greater detail. Once again, this is probably the nature of a historical fiction novel of this breadth.
Overall, a book I would recommend to history lovers and one which makes me think I will be reading the third book as soon as it is out!
A formulaic and dull book with a (not very well) hidden political agenda: the identification between Nazis and Commies. The characters are shallow, the female ones are poorly "developed", if this term can be applied to descriptions based on the size of the bosom. The relationships between male and female characters are "soap opera style", few sweet talks and (oral) sex.
The coincidences are unbelievable: the characters manage to be part of every turning point of the history with two substantial differences: KristalNacht and the battle of Stalingrad. If the latter is ignored (I suppose) for sake of brevity and maybe to avoid to sympathize with the Reds, the first one is a very strange omission because of the German Jew characters. Follet overlooks the Holocaust (there is only a mention of Auschwitz in the last pages and the Jew doctor dies because of the T4 Aktion), is a narrative choice or a political one?
The spying part is ridicule: people are running around with the top-secret documents and everyone is more than willing to share his secrets.
The Italian edition boasts about four translators to keep the Follett's unique style: for what I see, Google translator should be more than apt to translate a so poorly written book.
Second, Follett does a wonderful job reminding us that war is horrific. He really doesn't hold back. If you're at all appalled by the fact that humans can be truly AWFUL to each other, then just don't read this book. I mean, this book serves as one big reminder that humans have this incredible capacity to just forget that others are also HUMAN. And we can be absolutely TERRIBLE to each other based on the most simplistic differences.
Third, Follett truly is an incredible author. He takes something as complicated as international relations and makes it into a story worth reading. Of course, I'm not a historian so I don't know how accurate he is, but as a reader I kept turning the pages. Can't wait to see what the next generation of Peshkovs, von Ulrichs, Dewars, Williams, and Fitzherberts live through.
Like Follett's other epic stories (including Pillars of the Earth and World Without End), this enormous book is easy to sink into and enjoy. While the convenient character placement sometimes seems a little heavy-handed just as a method to tell a larger tale of history, the individual storylines and the relationships between the characters help bring a good perspective to the larger sweep of history. I don't know that I can be patient for the third volume. If you haven't read the first in this trilogy, do that first. It's not a must, as this could easily stand on its own. It just makes a lot more sense to have the backstory from Fall of Giants available to you before you read Winter of the World.