Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Another masterpiece of passion and insight!

We experience the suspense and tragedy of WWII through the eyes of the offspring of the people we came to know in Fall of Giants, the first book in the Century Trilogy. These children grow up into realistic, passionate characters who travel the world, engage in devious pursuits and fall in love.

Historical setting

Europe seems destined to collapse into Fascism. Jews are persecuted in Germany and heroic teenage girls track down what is really happening to disabled children who seem to be dying of burst appendices in groups. In Britain, the black shirts break up grassroots socialist gatherings in London with the police looking on. And in Spain Franco’s troops massacre the resistance volunteers. In retaliation, the Allies deliberately bomb residential areas in Germany but fail to bring the enemy to its knees. Is it left to Stalin’s brutal, disorganised, but apparently inexhaustible Communist hordes to halt Hitler’s advance? They can only succeed if they acquire inside details of the Nazi plans. This again requires underground agents to resort to grotesque methods and many lose their lives.

Japan rises, and its brazen attack on Pearl Harbour, which we live through in all its drama and agony, draws the USA into the global conflict. A massive Allied invasion through Normandy again causes terrible suffering, which we face at a very personal level. The world is horrified by the immense loss of life caused by the nuclear bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. And the war finally draws to a close.

Post-war tensions

The Allies – with the help of the Marshall Plan – seek to raise Western European nations from both sides back onto their industrial and economic feet. But the Soviet Union sees this as a subtle way to sabotage the advance of Communism and they hold back, which leads to the division of Germany. They also fear the USA with their nuclear arsenal could dominate the world and threaten to destroy all resistance. They need that technology too, and that means further espionage. For their good fortune, most of the scientists in America are sympathetic to the Communist cause. Soon the plans are stolen and a replica Fat Man is detonated in the desert of Kazakhstan.

Appraisal

Through all these intricacies we learn much about the clandestine machinations of politics and war. But the book is primarily about people, people with character – upright or perverse; people with convictions. They can be cruel; often they suffer; many indulge in passionate illicit relationships or are surprised to discover who they really are.

In some way this seems to ba an allegory. On the one hand we have complex interlocking relationships with their far reaching and often unexpected consequences. On the other, the vacillating plots and conspiracies between nations, which also result in long-term and not always desirable repercussions. The result is a clever, multi-level drama.

Both as regards its historicity and its psychology, this is a great book – long, informative, enthralling and largely plausible.

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