Winter of the World - Ken Follett
Winter of the World, the second in the Century Trilogy, is the fourth book by Ken Follett that I read this year. It’s the fourth book I’ve ever read by him actually. After reading the medieval epics Pillars of the Earth and World Without End this summer I couldn’t read enough of his work. Historical fiction is the genre I have been looking for, I just didn’t know it until now. I more likely actively avoided it lest I turn into my father, a man who will rattle off facts about WWII that are tangential to a conversation. Despite my preconceptions I found my way to Follett’s Century Trilogy.
I’ve learned more about the 19th century while reading these novels than I have from any modern history class I’ve ever taken. Follett I’m sure took creative licenses with his narrative, but every historical event in the novel took place, and his characters reacted to them. All of the POV characters were fictional, but since the novel revolves around politics and foreign relations, personas like Churchill, FDR or Stalin must make an appearance at some point. At the end of his first book, Follett has a disclaimer stating that he tried his best for accuracy when writing historical characters. I do not know how Hitler acted in person, but it seemed right describing his actions as histrionic, especially when trying to blame the Communist Party for the burning of the Reichstag in 1933.
It definitely felt appropriate, or at the very least it heightened the drama. Ken Follett is good at that. So far all of his books seem rather melodramatic, but when you’re dealing with life and death on such a massive scale how can you not be. The good guys are always good, the bad guys are always bad, and in the end right always trumps wrong. In a world where audiences have come to expect twists and turns in a plot, it’s actually quite surprising. That isn’t to say there is no nuance in the story, but many of the evil characters have no redeeming factors. I’ve been taught to revile the Nazis and the Soviet secret police my whole life so I quite like it.
That’s what his stories seem to be about: bad things will sometimes happen to good people, but it’s more important to stand against injustice. That message is just as relevant today given America’s current political climate—ISIL, Syrian refugees, #blacklivesmatter, Donald Trump.
As a nation I hope we are able to combat the social threats facing us. Part of me wishes I knew real life would be as predictable as one of Follett’s novels. No matter what happens at least I know what to expect from Edge of Eternity, the final book in the trilogy.