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Winter of the World

Follett’s ‘Winter of the World’ captivates

Where, oh where, do we begin? How about somewhere in the middle this time?

Ken Follett’s second book in his massive Century Trilogy – Winter of the World – is 960 pages long. The good news: it’s quintessential Follett. The delight remains in the details.

Yes, it’s an intimidating opus and yes, it will take you more than a few cool autumn nights to finish, but it’s a good investment in time.

As is the way with Follett’s tales, the reader is once again transported, this time back to the 1930s and ’40s, an era ripe for the picking.

There’s the burning of the Reichstag and the chilling rise of Adolf Hitler; there’s unrest in London and civil war in Spain; there’s Pearl Harbor, the Battle of France, the Battle of Britain, the Battle of Moscow. And did we mention the birth of the atomic bomb? The world was in turmoil as never before.

Follett admits he chose the book’s title to “capture the notion that my characters are desperately trying to survive a bigger kind of winter – one whose storms include Stalin’s purges and Hitler’s holocaust.”

Even after all his novels – some 20 in all – the reader remains amazed Follett can research a book so thoroughly that you actually feel like you’re there, even smelling the smells.

Winter of the World is told through the eyes of five inter-related families – American, German, Russian, English, Welsh – characters who were introduced in Follett’s Fall of Giants, the first novel in the trilogy.

These families are what moves this massive trilogy along – riveting historic facts aside. Their lives humanize what is happening in the world at the time. Without them this would be just another historical novel set around World War II. Interesting, but with little emotional attachment.

Follett takes us from country manors to the battlefields to the White House, giving a history lesson through the lives of both historic figures and his fictional families.

For those who can’t get enough, fear not. The third book in the trilogy will follow, revolving around the postwar era and the Cold War.

Anyone who has invested the time and energy in this trilogy will no doubt want to see these characters through, including social climber and ultimate survivor Daisy Peshkov. One suspects we’ll be sorry to see them all go. We know them better than most of our relatives by now. More interesting, too.

Craig Wilson, USA TODAY, 16 September 2012