Book Review: Winter of the World – by Ken Follett

Winter of the WorldDid you ever wonder how communism arose in the Soviet Union and how it became so compelling for so many people in so many countries for such a long time?

Did you ever want to learn how exactly East Germany came about? What was going on with the German people that caused them to split up the nation?

Did you ever wonder how Nazism could possibly arise in an educated, civilized country and how it came to corrupt the government, law enforcement, the judicial system, and eventually the military?

Reading Winter of the World, the second book of Follett’s Century Trilogy, answers these questions and many others. The book follows events that led up to World War II, and then guides the reader through the war and the first post-war years. It makes world history come to life in front of his eyes, just like Fall of Giants, the first book of the trilogy, did.

The characters in Winter of the World are in some cases the same as the protagonists we got to know in Fall of Giants. Earl Fitzherbert in England is still in charge of Ty Gwyn, and his sister Maud is living in Germany with her husband Walter. The elder Williamses are still alive. But they are no longer the main characters. Rather, the story is carried by their children. Boy Fitzherbert and his illegitimate brother Lloyd Williams are main characters from England.

The Buffalo Peshkov family, now led by the gangster-like Lev plays a pivotal role and connects the American contingent with the Russian roots. Lev’s daughter Daisy is a key contributor to the story. Lev’s illegitimate son Greg works for the United States government in intelligence, and his, unbeknownst to him, half-brother Volodya Peshkov is a Red Army Intelligence officer. Grigory Peshkov, his father, is a general and close adviser to Stalin. I found Volodya’s observation of communism, Stalin and his murderous regime, as well as his view of the American system most interesting. It helped me understand how the Soviet empire came about.

Then there is the American Dewar family, where Woody Dewar, Gus’ son, plays the most pivotal role. On the American side we learn about Pearl Harbor and how it forced America into the war.

In Germany, the van Ulrich family, particularly their younger daughter Carla, teach us about what life was like in Berlin, under the yoke of the Gestapo, behind the curtain of Germany, then the evil empire. Carla’s brother Eric illustrates how young German men could possibly be convinced to go to war and attack neighboring countries, looting and raping them until nothing was left.

Closing the loop back in England, there is also Ethel Leckwith, formerly Williams, Dai’s daughter and Billy’s sister. Both Ethel and Billy end up as English Members of Parliament.

The middle of the last century is spread wide open and through the actions and challenges of these six major families and their interconnections, Follett presents a history lesson as riveting as any epic novel.

He writes in a very simple language, which is easy to read and which makes it hard to put the book down, although it’s 940 tightly written pages in hardcover. This is like reading War and Peace or Count of Monte Cristo – or Follett’s own Pillars of the Earth – in other words: a massive reading undertaking.

But I never noticed, besides the experience that it took me a lot longer to read this than other books. When I was done, I was sorry I had to leave all the people I got to know so well. I can’t wait for the third book now.

Rating: ****

Leave a Reply