Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: July 28, 2016

It is 1911. The Coronation Day of King George V. The Williams, a Welsh coal-mining family, is linked by romance and enmity to the Fitzherberts, aristocratic coal-mine owners. Lady Maud Fitzherbert falls in love with Walter von Ulrich, a spy at the German Embassy in London. Their destiny is entangled with that of an ambitious young aide to U.S. President Woodrow Wilson and to two orphaned Russian brothers, whose plans to emigrate to America fall foul of war, conscription and revolution. In a plot of unfolding drama and intriguing complexity, Fall Of Giants moves seamlessly from Washington to St Petersburg, from the dirt and danger of a coal mine to the glittering chandeliers of a palace, from the corridors of power to the bedrooms of the mighty.

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I can't really say what kept me from picking up this behemoth when it came out, but Ken Follett's Fall of Giants never demanded my immediate attention. I stumbled over it here and there, but it wasn't until I saw the audio edition available for check out through Overdrive that I really considered tackling the title.

I wont lie, Fall of Giants is long, the story lines are unbalanced, the cast is unusually large, the characterizations are not complex, and many of the individual arcs are not satisfactorily concluded by the final page. That said, the book is not about any one person, it is about an intense period of time, a few short years that changed the course of human history, and in that light I feel the novel an indisputable success.

A fully comprehensive snapshot would be impossible to create, but Follett's representation is the next best thing. He captures the experiences of individuals from a variety of backgrounds and social standing and pairs it with the political, international, and social issues that dominated their lives. The end result is an intensely personal and multifaceted illustration of both WWI and the Russian Revolution.

Follett's work is meticulously researched, but his ability to deftly weave together the stories and experiences of five families against such a massive and immersive backdrop sets Fall of Giants apart. It's intimidating as hell to look at, but if anyone ever asked if I would endorse it, my answer would be an immediate and enthusiastic yes.

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“It was a sunny day in early summer, and he could hear birdsong. In a nearby orchard that had so far escaped shelling, apple trees were blossoming bravely. Men were the only animals that slaughtered their own kind by the million, and turned the landscape into a waste of shell craters and barbed wire. Perhaps the human race would wipe itself out completely, and leave the world to the birds and trees, Walter thought apocalyptically. Perhaps that would be for the best.”
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