Jean-Paul’s Rating: 3/5 stars
“Winter of the World” is book two of the “Century Trilogy” by Ken Follett. Book two follows historical events from the rise of Nazism in 1933, through World War II, and ends in 1949 with the Soviet nuclear test and partitioning of East and West Germany. Most of the cast of characters in book two will be familiar to readers of book one as they are almost exclusively the offspring of the characters from the first book.
Much of what I said about “Fall of Giants” applies equally to “Winter of the World”. The historical fiction parts are quite interesting and offer rare glimpses of historical facts that were not covered in your history classes, albeit often with the ahistorical characters in the novel involved. Follett also still has problems with writing romantic relationships, but they are much more tolerable in this book than they were in the first or I am just so used to his style that I don’t much recognize how bad it is anymore.
What makes this book so readable has much to do with the characters themselves. Almost all are relatable. They have recognizable flaws and believable character progressions. Characters like Eric von Ulrich who falls so completely for Nazism only to be disillusioned by it after experiencing its brutality first hand during the war only to get completely swept up in Soviet Communism which followed much of the Nazi atrocity playbook in East Germany.
There is a disjointedness to this novel that wasn’t apparent in the first. I think this has much to do with Follett having so much more historical material to work with as we get closer to present day and its better record keeping. How do you choose what you want to cover and what you want to exclude? For instance, I assume Follett covered Pearl Harbor for the sole reason that Americans wouldn’t read his book if he didn’t. It and the cursory glances into the Pacific Theater seem so out of place with the rest of the book. Other major events are excluded completely or only hinted at.
There is also a bit too much of the East Bad, West Good thing going on. By no means are the U.S. and U.K. portrayed as angels, but German and Russian atrocities certainly take center stage. How do you not even mention Japanese internment or the bombing of Dresden? How do you mention the mass rape of German women by Russian soldiers while actively pointing out that the characters had never heard of American or British troops committing the same heinous acts even though it is fairly well documented that they did? And how do you not mention the Holocaust even once?
Once again, we have a good book with flaws but is worth reading on balance. Good characters, decent enough story, vibrant historical background. The book has much to offer. At 940 pages, it is a lot of book to get through, though. If you don’t find that daunting and you’re willing to pick up the trilogy, I still think you will find your time not wasted.