Tuesday, April 28, 2020

Ken Follett - Century Trilogy

Ken’s magnificent historical epic begins with Fall of Giants, where five interrelated families move through the momentous dramas of the First World War, the Russian Revolution, and the struggle for women’s suffrage. 
Winter of the World follows the five interrelated families through a time of enormous social, political, and economic turmoil, beginning with the rise of the Third Reich, through the great dramas of World War II, and into the beginning of the long Cold War.
The saga continues in the third novel, Edge of Eternity, when the five families come to one of the most tumultuous eras of all: the 1960s through the 1980s, from civil rights, assassinations, mass political movements, and Vietnam to the Berlin Wall, the Cuban Missile Crisis, presidential impeachment, revolution—and rock and roll.

Comment: Last week I dedicated myself to this trilogy by Ken Follett. A friend of mine let me
borrow the Portuguese editions (she's a fan of history and fictional stories on historical events) and it took me a whole week to go through the three of them combined, especially now with having much more free time because of the virus.

The trilogy follows the lives of five families that somehow connect throughout the world events that shape the moment in which they live.
The first book is mostly centered during WWI, the second book around WWII and the third between the 60s and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989/1990.
The reader gets to have a crash curse summary on world history while following the lives of three generations of the five families. Some situations are too closely related to the fictional lives but always with the world events surrounding them and society shaping many of the events history now might see as positive or negative...

It was quite a task to read these books all in a row. It's a huge number of pages but this period of staying home did allow for an easier opportunity to go through them all (they are quite heavy to carry, so it was one positive aspect of the whole virus thing, being at home reading) and this means I could go from one to another quickly.
The historical events are presented in a way that we could see the perspective of the characters while they dealt with what was happening but, of course, it's just one way to look at it and of everything that could be addressed, so the author had to chose a path to follow.

Of them all, I preferred the first book for one very simple reason: the characters were more approachable and appealing to me, their values and behaviors were something I could relate to and despite the fact WWI happened for what we could perhaps say now was an inconsequential reason, their attitude felt necessary, felt justifiable and their lives suffered but their presence, their decency and honor were up front. I learned to care for the main characters, even the ones I didn't like as much, and I was very glad to know the main ones survived their ordeal.

The second book has a new generation up front but the other characters I liked were still there, were still active and although I also liked this book a lot, I felt sadder when things went wrong and even more so because of the theme. WWII just has a different tone from the first and because it has been given a much bigger highlight by historians and the world itself, I couldn't help but associating it with much more negative emotions.

The third book was a bit of a let down. I can understand the author wanting to closely follow the real state of life and of thought and of how society evolved but there were themes/situations I simply disliked. The characters I liked so much were now old or dying and that made me feel sad. The young generation, now having center stage, often had behaviors I disliked and don't agree with - even if historically correct - so I didn't enjoy the fictional parts as much. Besides that, the more we advance in time, the more complex politics and society get and it seemed the author wanted to encompass too much until the fall of the wall so the narrative felt choppy at times and easier to distract from.

The authors writing style was both good and bad. I think the fictional parts could be much more emotional but on the other hand it was good there existed a certain distance between the things happening on the page and the reader. It was both a relief and a pity the characters weren't shown in a much more personal way because although I'd have loved to know them even more besides the obvious connection they had with others during the world events, how much sadder it would be when/if things went wrong or bad for them?

I saw some critics the author used a very specific POV to present the world affairs and how readers have to perceive them. To be honest, I don't really care, this is a fictional story set during real life moments. Everyone has a different POV on things. I believe the author when he says he tried to be as close to real events as possible, to put real intervenients doing/speaking only what can be proven while other things were worked by him so "his" characters could be justifiable in being close to those moments.
Portuguese covers

It was good to read this story. I still feel rather melancholic when I think about the destiny of all those characters, even if they never existed. Especially the protagonists from book #1and what happened to them all...it's rather bittersweet to think of this, of those characters and of the lives of so many unknown people but whose suffering and happiness was certainly affected.
The first book was my favorite but it went downhill from there. I have a fond appreciation for the whole trilogy but yes, the path chosen to develop the fictional families' destiny could have been done better.
Grade: 7/10

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