Ken Follett is a Genius

So I know it’s been quite a while since I’ve posted anything, but that’s because I didn’t feel like I could until a finished that brick of a book, Fall of Giants. But oh was it worth it. Ken Follett is a modern, easier-to-read Tolstoy who hammers his points about humanity home as effectively as Dostoevsky. And I don’t think I feel that way just because one of the five main character groups was a pair of Russian brothers. I was forcibly reminded of these two Russian lit gods because of Follett’s ability to tell the separate stories, link them, weave them throughout a war narrative, and create lasting, affecting characters that I know I won’t soon forget. It was so, so good.

Okay details about the book: Fall of Giants is the first book in The Century Trilogy. I haven’t looked into the other two books much because I hope to read them soon, but I did find out that the second one (Winter of the World) includes the children of our five main families, which is thrilling and makes me want to read it. I know it’s also following chronological order and taking place as World War II is picking up, which really makes me want to read it. I love reading historical fiction accounts of Nazi Germany, call me macabre.

Anyway this first book incorporates the lives of five different, ethnically diverse families who are affected by the beginning of World War I. There’s the American, the Russian brothers, the Welsh working-class family, the English Earl and his Russian princess wife and feminist sister, and their German friends. All these characters find their stories overlapping with the others in unlikely but somehow totally believable ways, which makes for a compelling read. As the reader, I was constantly caught up in the momentum of the story, driven by graphic and intense battle scenes, but also trying to stay one step ahead and figure out who was going to meet next and how it was going to happen. Ah. It was magnificent.

I compare Follett to Tolstoy especially because he has a way of bringing in ultimate questions about life and purpose and death without being too existential or drawing away from the physical action of the plot. So it’s almost like the ultimate questions (what’s the point of war, of life, of love?) are there in the background, and you can consider them, or not because the story is going to keep moving either way.

I can’t wait to keep reading Follett’s stuff. Now I face the decision of continuing with the Century trilogy, or starting something totally new (Pillars of the Earth would be my obvious choice). I am taking a break from him and taking up Hemingway’s For Whom the Bell Tolls in the meantime. I know, I am the worst English major/American because I’ve never read this novel. Better late than never, though, yeah? Anyway, sometimes I find if I read a series straight through with no other authors in between, I don’t take as much from the sequential novels as I would with a break and a fresh, different voice thrown in there to keep me on my toes. This is probably all in my head.

On another note, I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday and a happy new year filled with the best books. ◊

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