Winter of the World – Ken Follett

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Second in the century trilogy by Ken Follett, winter of the World once again acknowledges the author’s claim to the position of best Historical Drama writers of our generation. All the books that he has written in this genre have been well researched and then presented with a  flair that makes it not only an interesting read but also an educational one at times.

I bought this book the day it came out in India and must report that in the bid to make the edition as cheap as possible for the stingy Indian buyers the publishers have used the thinnest paper they could find and managed to produce an extremely flimsy edition. The first book in the trilogy with the complimentary cover series was much sturdier with better pages and just a tad higher price tag. I only mention this because I have started paying attention to covers and such since the last few months and now think of the books I buy as an investment towards the library that I will have in the home we build one day.

The story here begins in 1933, and follows the lives of the children of the main protagonists in the first part. When we talk of the World War II and Hitler, we just think of the years in which the war was actually fought. And yet, like the book made me realize it started much earlier. It wasn’t as if Hitler just walked to the podium one fine morning on 1st September, 1939 and declared war on Poland. Reading the novel, as it follows the lives of the protagonists on the different continents and countries, it is easy to see the remarkable difference in the lives of the children who grew up to be adults in the pre-war era. The Americans were the most well off and lived almost up to the war as normal a life as they would get. The  Russian part of the story is left to meander and comes to surface almost in the second half, so we assume that the Russians were carrying on as they always did; under duress and economical strain. The British, with their inherent sense of honour and self- righteousness were extremely concerned with the rising head of fascism in the country and teenagers and young adults seem to have had an active interest in the politics of that time.

The German cousins meanwhile were just beginning to grow up and realize that freedom is not just taken away behind high walls and iron bars but even as you work and go about your daily chores at home. I found that part of the novel extremely moving as I realized that the common people who were just doing their jobs and living a normal life suddenly found themselves looking over their backs and worrying about the things they might have said in public hearing. It is the story that repeats itself all over the world when unemployment and poverty make people turn to ideologies and fanaticism propagated by an ambitious individual or group that promises a better life in return for some kind of social purging or violence. As I read of a teenage girl in Germany, as she was forced to grow up in a short time and decide to either accept the horror around her or do something about it, I wondered if that is what must be happening to young girls all over Afghanistan and Pakistan in the past few years.  And I imagined myself in a situation like Carla von Ulrich’s and wondered how I would have felt if every time a member of my family stepped out of the house we were not sure whether they would make it back home again or not. Or if I knew there was no food for the family.

Apart from Carla, this book also pays a lot of time and attention to Lloyd Leckwith, Lord Fitz’s bastard son. He follows his mother’s footsteps into politics and then goes to fight wars in Italy and then France. Everything he does is done with a strong sense of duty and the sense of right and wrong. Sometimes he feels just too good to be true.

Greg Peshkov, the American too plays an important role in the book as he moves in the footsteps of his ruthless and ambitious father. He seems to have a small moral side that seems to rear its head from time to time and may be the salvation he requires in the end. I wish he doesn’t completely succumb to his bad side by the time we meet him in the third part of the series.

Volodya Peshkov, the Russian, makes sporadic appearances into the story and comes across as someone too ready to believe the worst in everyone he meets. He too has scope to become better and wiser as he grows older.

The Dewar brothers are the ones who seemed to be truly happy and normal in the whole group of confused and conflicted youngsters in the book. They have a normal family and stable parents and grow into quite stable and well-formed individuals themselves.

The older generation except for Ethel Leckwith and Maud and Gus Dewar are almost completely faded into the background.

The end feels a bit abrupt. But it always does to me. I wish there were more and I can do nothing but wait for another two years.

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