Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Book Review: Fall Of Giants

Book 1 of the Century Trilogy, by Ken Follett
Category: Historical Fiction

In the Century Trilogy, the author has attempted to explain how the modern world came about, and exactly what were the seminal events that lead to the fall of the world order of the earlier century, eventually leading to the demise of colonialism and the emergence of the modern world order. The series deals with ground level changes - tectonic changes, as it turned out - and how all of these came together in shaping the world as we know it today. The narrative is blunt, and many a person will be rubbed the wrong way; but it is uncomfortably accurate. The book leaves no major question unanswered, eventually leading to a deep understanding of the history of that time. The single aspect that takes this above the ordinary is that both the new-age and the old (outdated and amoral) viewpoints are explained without value judgements. This is a series that everyone must read, as it leaves a deep impression on your mind....

The Characters
There are precisely 124 characters - and yet, you dont feel overwhelmed,, or lose track of the story!  I cant possibly go into even all the significant ones, so I shall only concentrate on those who left an impression on me : either favourable, or unfavourable

Earl Fitzherbert: Unfaithful, stuck-up, arrogant, pompous... in short, a rotten arsehole
Billy Williams: Pure Gold; a fighter to boot; almost qualifies for the centerpiece of the novel, bar 2!
Ethel Williams: One mistake... but it turned out great in the end
Maud Fitzherbert: Balanced, mature - a woman ahead of her times;  the center of the novel bar one
Walter Von Ulrich: Frontispiece of the novel, bar none... the single most impressive person
Lev Peshkov: I-Me-Myself, but he doesn't forget those who helped eventually
Grigori Peshkov: Fighter, idealist, Born Leader
Gus Dewar: Initially non-descript... but proves to be a tough but straight man...

The Analysis
The author has attempted to tell the story of the World from around 1910 - 1924. This has been achieved through 5 families - British, Welsh, German, American and Russian. These families are at the center of historical events, or they rise to the center in the novel, becoming active participants in the significants events of this period- for example, universal adult suffrage and rise of the labour movement in Britain, Bolshevism in Russia, World War 1 in Germany and Britain, and the American dream & decision to enter World War 1.

The reader is given a ringside seat as the pressure mounts on the british government to include women in the electoral process through the eyes of Maud and Ethel, while through the eyes of the arrogant idiot Fitzherbert you get to understand the response of the powers to these steps. Through the travails of Grigori, you get to understand how and why Bolshevism rose to such prominence in Russia, while through his twisted brother you are exposed to the American dream. Through Gus Dewar you understand the politics of the day in USA, and can feel the tension as the country tries its best to stay out of the war. Through Walter, you understand the German on the street and empathise that they were pushed into a war they did not want because of the people in power... this approach has enabled  a deep understanding of the formative events of the first quarter of the century, which we can now identify as being seminal changes. That is why I keep universal suffrage above the War: for that is what determined a lot of the politics of the period after 1950...

I cant see the British being too delighted with this Novel, for it is the one nation that emerges with a tattered reputation from this Novel. Even Germany comes out trumps over the British, with the internal fight to keep Germany from declaring war, the ultimatums and peace proposals (and never mind the arrogant language - they made the peace proposal, which was not even discussed by the British and The French) - as well as the warning to the American people to stay away from shipping travel. Britain, by contrast, comes across as stupid, brash, cruel and arrogant as firstly they got into a war that had absolutely nothing to do with them, secondly the way they denied even basic rights to their own people. This is the first western Novel I have read that makes a direct linkage between the war and British Imperialism as 2 characters openly question why it is wrong for the Austrians and Germans to have an empire, and what entitles Britain to an empire? Africa, India etc are mentioned by both sides as arguments - what will happen to the Empire? A soldier asks his officer this question - to which the officer answers bluntly that "We are British"; meaning that the fact that they are British entitles them to enslave others! The book makes a clear point: WW1 would have been lost, but for the timely American entry...

The characterisation is excellent, as you can literally get into the skin of each character of the novel, and form a picture in your mind as to the character traits of the person in question, his language and his overall responses to various situations. What is more, each character sketch helps in  taking the story forward, and is clearly representative of the class of society he represents, In other words, stereotypes have been relied upon, and the character has been modelled upon the general person from that class of society - for example Earl Fitzherbert. You can see how he fits the general impression of the nobleman, and Billy Williams, and how he fits what we all understand by an underprivileged working class man. The is a stunningly fast read, and is a page turner. The pace is relentless, and despite its length of 1000+ pages, is extremely well put together. At no point do you lose track of the story, or lose interest. All in all, a must read for all... 


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