Friday, December 28, 2012
Author: Ken Follett
Narrator: John Lee
Publisher: Books on Tape, audio - 30 hrs, 38 min
Genre: Historical fiction
Subject: World War I and social/political issues of the times
Setting: England, Russia, Germany
Series: Century Trilogy
Source: purchased from Audible
Why did I read this book now? It was part of my World War I reading challenge.
This was an exceptionally enjoyable read especially since I read it immediately following the George, Nicholas, and Wilhelm biography reviewed yesterday. After seeing the war from the perspective of the high rulers, it was quite a turn-around to read Follett's story of the era from the perspective of working class participants: the soldiers who slogged through the mud and trembled in the trenches, the peasants who starved in the frozen acreage of Mother Russia, the ruthless ne'er-do-wells who used the circumstances to better their own lives while trampling on others, and the mid-level aristocracy who saw their world of privilege crumbling and could do little to stop the disintegration of their way of life in spite of their seemingly heroic efforts.
Follett chooses the coal miners and upper class gentry of Wales to tell Great Britain's story. He shows us Russia from the point of view of two brothers, disillusioned peasants, who had witnessed the brutal murder of their mother while the Russian aristocracy stood watching stonefaced. He shows us German and American aide-de-camps working at upper level government jobs gathering intelligence, trying to shape opinion, and ultimately trying desparately to stop a war before it got started.
Women characters play large roles in the story, fighting restrictions designed to bind them to men (either fathers, brothers or husbands). From a parlor maid seduced by the master of the household, to an upper-class Englishwoman fighting for peace and women's rights, to war widows, maiden aunts, and de-throned Russian royalty, they all must face changing social mores and paradigms. There are appearances from actual historic figures (e.g., Winston Churchill) as well as a host of fictional personalities who bring the troubles of the era to life.
This is a long book....over a 1000 pages in print, and 30 hours in audio. Like all of Follett's works, it can get a bit long-winded in parts, but the story is well told, extremely well researched, and ultimately enjoyable. I especially found the sections on the Russian revolution very enlightening. Not only did I enjoy the read, I learned a lot about the various factions and causes of the many different aspects of that country's government(s) during those years.
This one was a great way to tie together the other 14 books set around and about World War I which I read throughout the year. The carnage that mankind can inflict on itself was well documented, and told in chilling detail, but the fictional characters who told their stories (through John Lee's masterful narration in the audio version) kept it interesting and left us wanting to get on with life after the war. I also purchased the 2nd in the trilogy, which begins with Hitler's coming to power in 1933. I hope to read it early in 2013.
Posted by Tina at 12:00 AM