Monday, August 12, 2013

The War Part One

The five main families in Fall of Giants by Ken Follett all approach the World War I from different perspectives.  The Williams family from Wales is forced to confront the reality of war when the son, Billy, is drafted.  Billy's sister, Ethel, finds the war to be an unexpected opportunity to fight for voting rights for women.  The Fitzherberts are a wealthy English family, except that the patriarch is married to a Russian princess.  Earl Fitzherbert is immediately named an officer in the British army, not because of his military expertise, but because of his social rank.  His sister, Maud, also works for the rights of women, and obviously befriends Ethel.  The VonUlrichs are a German family of diplomats, who spend a great deal of time in England prior to the war, but fight for Germany when the war is inevitable.  The Peshkovs are Russian brothers who raised each other after their parents were killed by the Czar's regime, and ultimately find themselves on opposite sides.  Finally, the Dewars are a wealthy American family, with a son working for President Wilson.  In Follett's style, the five families are intertwined in some predictable and in some surprising ways. 

World War I is the backdrop for this story.  As told by these characters, the war was completely avoidable, and seemed to have more to do with rulers being bored and greedy than with the assassination of Franz Ferdinand.  The war ultimately showed flaws in the reasoning and strategies of each of the countries involved. 

By the end of the Great War, it is clear that another war is destined to be, due to the sanctions imposed on the losers.  The sanctions, coupled with general civil unrest in Germany and Russia, created a toxic atmosphere, which we all know eventually exploded into World War II.

By the end of the book, it is equally clear that a sequel is destined.  The Williams, Fitzherbert, VonUlrichs, and Peshkovs all have children, who will be just about the right age to fight in World War II.  The Dewar son is a newlywed, and children are surely not far away for that family either.  Although I'm not ready to start it yet, I will add Winter of the World, the second book in the trilogy, to my TBR list.

My favorite characters in Fall of Giants were the Williams family.  I started off really liking the Fitzherberts too, but there were plenty of reasons to like them less by the end of the story.  In some of Follett's earlier books, there have been characters who were just pure evil.  In this one, there is a police officer who is a clearly a bad guy, but he didn't quite rise to the level of evil in World Without End or Pillars of the Earth.  I'm sort of thinking that they may get worse with age, and that by Winter of the World they will really be people to avoid.

I listened to Fall of Giants for the first 2/3 of the book, and then listened and read the last 1/3.  I found that I could read an hours worth of story in about 40 minutes.  John Lee was the audiobook reader, and he did a great job.  He had a distinct voice for each character, with a believable accent, which must have been difficult given all of the nationalities involved.  The book was 985 pages, and the audiobook was 24 hours, so this was clearly a BFB.  I will have more to say about this one when The Typical Book Group gets together to discuss it. 

Next up:  The Lemon Orchard by Luanne Rice

Next up on CD:  The Three Weissmanns of Westport by Cathleen Schine

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