MONTGOMERY VILLAGE, MD., October 28, 2014 – Ken Follett’s trilogy of the history of the 20th Century is like a walk through a familiar neighborhood. The trilogy encompasses three critical times during the century and the fulcrum of each is war.
Follett follows families in Russia, Germany, England and the United States that become part of history. Real events are enriched by the presence and accounts of these fictitious characters. Their arch entangles them together as appropriate to continue the narration.
The first book Fall of Giants covers the historical events leading to the First World War, its history and aftermath. Empires and leaders of the late 19th Century find their demise as the world changes fueled by new ideas, including Communism. But it is not only the Russian Royalty that is debunked, all over the world the control of countries by a few are put in peril as portrayed in the book in Germany and the United Kingdom. While the established nobility tries to stay on top, the common working man finds its grove and starts in a journey of self-betterment. While the changes in the United Kingdom are somewhat gradual, those in Russia and to a certain extent Germany are precipitous.
Changes in the United Kingdom result in a more democratic government in which working class individuals rise to levels never before seen in Europe. In Russia the brutal treatment of the low classes and the corruption of the government result in complete upheaval of the class system and the triumph of the communist. In Germany the results are more complex and fueled by the grievous surrender conditions set by the Allies, misery is followed by chaos and finally in the formation of the most infamous system the world has ever know, Nazism.
The irony is that this horrible war could have been prevented easily as each country enters it reluctantly. The spark for the conflict as we all know was the assassination of Archduke Ferdinand in Sarajevo. Russian being the wild card in the conflict ends up leaving the allies and signing a treaty with the Germans as part of its metamorphosis into Communism.
The second book Winter of the World covers the events leading, during and after World War II. It shows the apathy of the world to the events in Germany leading to the total persecution of the Jews. This apathy is shadowed with the events during the Spanish Civil War. The narration during the Civil War is but a predecessor to what the World War turned out to be. All sides reveal their true faces: the Nazis and the Nationalist overtly commit massacres; the Communist fight against its allies and end up getting the Spanish treasure and losing the conflict; and, the rest of the world mostly stood by letting the Spanish Republicans (inadequately aided by the Russians) perish at the hands of the right wing Nationalist, the Italian Fascist and German Nazis. The dress rehearsal for WWII took place and the world saw the might of the right wing forces in the European continent and sat back in fear.
The dire living of the people opposing the Nazis in Germany makes the reader wonder at the cruelty of man for its own species. The perilous times of the Russians fighting a better armed foe and dying by the millions make us realize the extreme of human endurance. Finally the defeat of the Germans and the takeover of Berlin by the Russians gives us an idea of what revenge and propaganda can do to an Army. There are accounts of around two million women raped by the invading Russians in Berlin. Propaganda fed to the soldiers prior to the invasion may have contributed to the mass rapes.
Throughout the first two books the United States is seen as the quiet place where neither the excesses of the nobility nor the massacres of the Nazis and Communist could make a dent. In the second book there are some hints to suggest that this idyllic place also has its skeletons.
The third book Edge of Eternity covers the post WW II era and it pivots on the Vietnam War, the Cold War and the struggle for civil rights. While a lot of the action takes place in Germany and Russia, most of it takes place in the US. For those of us born soon after WW II, it is déjà vu. We go back to watching the events taking place on television night after night starting with the assassination of President Kennedy.
The book ends with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the razing of the wall in Berlin. The epilogue of the book shows one of the protagonists’ families watching the victory speech by President Obama in 2008.
The trilogy makes for great reading, especially the last book. Be aware that some of the historical events may be interpreted in a way that could make some rather angry. For example, the characters in the book analyze the coming down of the wall and the breakup of the Soviet Union as an implosion of the regime and not as caused by the arms race. The book suggests that the wall came down in spite of Reagan’s and Bush’s failure to see that Russian communism was destroyed from within.
Each book of the trilogy is about one thousand pages long, but once you get into them, you will not realize it.
Mario Salazar’s super power is to be able to see the past. If we all did, we probably not repeat it too often. He is in Twitter (@chibcharus), Google+ and Facebook (Mario Salazar).