Strengths: Well researched, some gripping scenes.
Weaknesses: Long and dreary in stretches and the Holocaust is two lines.
Why I read it: I enjoyed Fall of Giants.
Setting: Europe, USA, Pacific
Rating: 6.5 out of 10
I was really looking forward to this book after reading Fall of Giants, which I loved. Despite my vow to read the second heavy book as an eBook, that didn’t happen as I received this book for Christmas. It’s another heavy tome at 818 pages and it took me simply ages to read it, much longer than I had expected. Why? Because it was quite boring in parts.
Those of you who have read Ken Follett’s other massive chunksters (such as The Pillars of the Earth) know that he can be a real page turner. Unfortunately, this one wasn’t. I was begging for World War II to start because I knew there would be action. Yes, the pace did pick up as the war continued and some of the preamble of the 1930s – rise of Hitler and Fascism was necessary but I felt like the book needed an edit.
This time round we know the families involved (and once again, there’s a list if you’ve forgotten) and the children have grown up to fight again for freedom. We cover the German aspect with the von Ulrich family, England with the Williams’ and Fitzherberts, Russia with the Peshkovs and the USA with the (other) Peshkovs and Dewars. Everyone is as intermingled as a soap opera, but that’s not a bad thing as it gets the characters to the critical points in history.
If I had to some up this book in one word it would be politics. Everyone seems to be very politically focused or motivated and many inches are devoted to elections and political discussions. I understand that it’s necessary to understand the motivations behind WWII, but I got very sick of reading about Fascism and Black Shirts.
The parts of WWII that were covered were very broad. The focus is mainly on the war in Europe, with Chuck Dewar being the lone main character fighting the Japanese in the Pacific. There is some coverage of the development of the atom bomb but very little on the effects of it on the Japanese people, which was disappointing (surely a minor character could have been there to give some account of the devastation). Australia also doesn’t get much of mention (despite Darwin and other northern parts being bombed) and I don’t think anyone mentions the fall of Singapore. Being Australian and having family who fought in that area, I am possibly sensitive on this subject, wanting recognition of those who fought. But this book is English, so it focuses more on the European front.
Or does it? There is no mention of the Holocaust; just two characters mentioning that there’s a rumour Jewish people are being killed deliberately. That’s it. No mention of the horrors of Auschwitz (once again, with a big cast, couldn’t someone have stumbled past at a crucial moment?). The elderly and disabled are mentioned as being killed indiscriminately, but nothing of the Jewish people.
The parts of the war that were covered in detail were well researched, such as the making of the atom bomb and bombing of Pearl Harbor. I also learned a lot about the Spanish Civil War, which I didn’t know much about.
The book is definitely impressive, but it’s by no means a book about all the aspects of WWII – and not even some of the major ones. For that, I’m disappointed. I am impressed with the plotting and characterisation (as much as I have been cheeky about it, it does take a lot of effort to get those characters in the right place at the right time). Some of the language was mundane at times (he said, she replied, he said blah blah); at other times (such as describing starving people in Berlin) I felt I had a front row seat. I’d leave this one to Follett fans.