East German teacher Rebecca Hoffmann discovers she's been spied on by the Stasi for years and commits an impulsive act that will affect her family for the rest of their lives. George Jakes, the child of a mixed-race couple, bypasses a corporate law career to join Robert F. Kennedy's Justice Department, and finds himself in the middle not only of the seminal events of the civil rights battle, but a much more personal battle of his own. Cameron Dewar, the grandson of a senator, jumps at the chance to do some official and unofficial espionage for a cause he believes in, only to discover that the world is a much more dangerous place than he'd imagined. Dimka Dvorkin, a young aide to Nikita Khrushchev, becomes a prime agent both for good and for ill as the United States and the Soviet Union race to the brink of nuclear war, while his twin sister, Tanya, carves out a role that will take her from Moscow to Cuba to Prague to Warsaw and into history.
The narrative is rife with the familiar names of historic personages: Martin Luther King, the Kennedys, Kruschev, Gorbachev, McCarthy, Reagan, Obama and a host of others. Familiar historic events are featured and name-dropped, like the Freedom Ride, the Civil Rights Movement, the free love, promiscuity and open drug use at a concert in Woodstock, flower children making love not war, the anti-war movement that explodes as the Viet Nam war spreads and continues, the Iran Contra scandal, the Cuban Bay of Pigs debacle and the Berlin Crisis. These are but a few of the traumatic events described in the last decades of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st. Assassinations abound, Germany reunites, the Cold War ends and begins again, and a man of color is elected President to name a few more important moments in history.
The author’s political point of view rears its head throughout the book. His left leaning bias is obvious to the point of being intrusive and annoying. Everyone lies, all of the characters are driven by thoughts and/or acts of sex, all the women become pregnant, without or without the sanctity of marriage, with or without the knowledge of their partners, all republicans are responsible for the evil in the world and the liberals are responsible for what is good, even when they are engaged in wrongful behavior, never mind the KKK or the corrupt Democrat led government in Chicago. All the blacks are disgusted with the lack of equality and the only ones with noble goals are socialists and civil rights workers.
It feels like the same old, same old theme that runs through all of this author’s recent books. The language is unnecessarily foul, the sex is unnecessarily explicit and out of place, too many women are loose, too many men are disloyal, too many successful people are corrupt and government is overpowering. America is weak, men are shallow, women appear to be stronger but somehow most fall short when dealing with men of power. In short, the world seems like an ugly place according to Follett with little hope for real change. He tells a story that is not always credible in order to include all of the important historic moments, and his view and interpretation of the history sometimes seemed highly questionable and slanted toward his political preference.
The narrative follows each family and their experiences parallel each other so closely that each scene is predictable. The author would have us believe that they are all engaged in some form of infidelity, amoral and/or unethical behavior regardless of how high up the ladder they climb, or perhaps in spite of it. It seems as if none are without a stain on their reputation. The dialogue is often hackneyed and repetitive. Each family has someone in the same age range with a job that bring them in contact with each other, even though they live in different parts of the world. This simply creates too many contrived coincidences to make this more than a beach read, but with just about 1400 pages, it is probably even too long for that!
I feel sure that many Follett fans will eagerly read and adore this book, but I was very disappointed.
Follett has written these books to be enjoyed on their own terms as well as being part of a sequence. In some ways reading Edge of Eternity on its own might be a more satisfying experience. My main criticism of the book is the sense of repetition of some of the plot devices and situations from the prior novels. Another teenage girl discovers to her horror that she is pregnant (ruining her dreams), a lead character discovers hurtful infidelity - OK these are staples of popular fiction but here on the third book they just felt a bit too familiar.
That said Follett still writes a solid readable book. The recount of dramatic events is great and gives a much more powerful perspective than reading a straight history book. From the frustration and sense of imprisonment in East Berlin to the fear of nuclear destruction during the Cuban Missile Crisis and the corruption of the Nixon years, the accomplished novelist has the ability to make vivid the feelings and human drama.
The characters were interesting, although perhaps there were too many. I just didn't feel quite the same level of engagement as with the earlier books. Interestingly there are actually less characters in this book than Fall of Giants (75 including peripheral roles as opposed to 84) although there are significantly more real historical figures. I think some of the figures in the earlier books like Ethel, Fitz, Billy and Grigori were better drawn and evoked with dialogue and incident. Perhaps also the struggles here seem a bit less dramatic - Dave Williams trying to get ahead as a pop singer doesn't really compare to Billy's life down the mines and at war, although that is a slightly extreme comparison.
Overall though, I would still recommend this book. You'll be drawn into the story, the events and experience frustration and triumph (and probably a tear on the last page or two). It certainly was a tumultuous century, and well evoked in epic fiction by Ken Follett.
As he did in the prior two books of this massive trilogy, Follett has used meticulous and exhaustive research weaving fact and fiction and encompassing everything from the American civil rights movement and the Cuban missile crisis to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the birth of rock and roll. We have witnessed both ordinary and extraordinary people as they fight to stay alive and win their rightful place in society, endure life’s triumphs and tragedies, negotiate change on an unprecedented scale and struggle to comprehend what the future may hold for them.
Edge of Eternity, the final chapter of their story, provides a satisfying and ultimately moving finale. While not my favorite book of the series, I am really going to miss these characters that I've come to admire. I found it to be a superb listening experience, wonderfully narrated by John Lee.
I loved the history parts of this book. I am deeply ashamed for the behavior of some of my contemporaries, and am greatly disturbed to know that some of these thugs are still alive with never having to pay for their violence and hatred.
Some of the historical events in the book were just reminders of what I already knew, but I also was given insight into events I didn't know about, and learned of events that never hit my radar.
As far as the fictional part – I really hate that the author seems to think the answer to a drag in the plot is to throw in an unplanned/unexpected/unwanted pregnancy. He does this a LOT. I also felt that his writing of women's feelings were glaringly written from a man's viewpoint. And I could have done without some of the explicit sex. Reading about someone else's sex acts just doesn't do it for me.
The narrator, John Lee, does a very good job with most of the various voices and accents, even though he does pronounce some words differently than I learned. Maybe he is right and I'm wrong. Or maybe it is a British thing.
Despite its shortcomings, I really enjoyed all three books of this trilogy. If I didn't, I wouldn't have spent over 36 hours listening to this one, close to 100 hours for the trilogy.
I listened to the unabridged Audible version of these books.
Overall a wonderful conclusion to a truly epic saga and one I can highly recommend if you like your historical fiction reads to be entertaining and engaging.
That said, it IS fascinating history, and while it fell off a lot in the middle, by the last 20% I felt somewhat more invested in the story. He knows how to keep the pages turning, and I'm still a fan. Not my favorite Follett, but how many times can you write "Pillars of the Earth?"
I love Ken Follett, but his newer books, especially the trilogies, have become too formulaic.
Follett is a genius of historical fiction, but I get the distinct feeling that he tried to do too much here. Some scenes are marvelously done - I haven't yet read a better take on the worldwide reaction to the Kennedy assassination - yet the 1970s-1989 are brushed over as if little happened relative to the 1960s. Follett is generally also a master of apolitical writing where no political persuasion or issue is viewed as 100% just or evil, yet 'Edge of Eternity' definitely read as politically slanted in many ways. Where the first and second books gave everyone a fair shake, I got the distinct feeling that the characters were written in a way to push for a particular agenda.
The biggest disappointment is that I simply didn't care about the characters. Other than Dimka (and maybe Cam Dewar, later on), they are all inherently hypocritical and self-serving, and have the rare ability to make even just political causes seem childish, easy, or utterly uncomplicated. 'Fall of Giants' and 'Winter of the World' were masterpieces because they were the exact opposite: a window into history that showed just how difficult, complex, and uncertain things were in a time of destruction, fear, and hope. 'Edge of Eternity' offers little other than a sense of cynicism against any government and its respective politicians.
The book did capture an incredible breadth of history, for which I give Follett credit. His writing style is easy and engaging to read, regardless of the book's length.
Ultimately, The Century Trilogy will be well regarded for the outstanding successes of the first two books, where this one carries the torch over the finish line at a light jog. Could have been richer, more meaningful, and with stronger characters, but still entertaining nonetheless.