Sunday, June 5, 2011

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett

I don't think that I have ever taken so long to read a book in my life. I actually started this book back in October, 2010. It wasn't that Fall of Giants wasn't good, it was life got in the way. Classes, book club books, and the Anglican Adventure trip were bumps in the road to finishing it. In fact, it really was just the opposite. The book was incredibly interesting and enjoyable. Follett has woven a story that just begins in this first installment of The Century Trilogy.

The novel opens in Wales in 1911 when the 13 year-old Billy Williams makes his first trip down into the coal mines. After a near brush with death, he asserts his leadership and becomes a force with which to be reckoned. Billy's sister, Ethel is a maid in the household of the Fitzherberts, a wealthy earl whose home is a mansion compared to the humble abode of the miners. She is a conscientious worker and moves up the ladder to become a head of the household staff. She also becomes the lover of the earl and when becoming pregnant is sent from the estate with hush money.

Intertwined with these characters are Russian peasant brothers, a Russian princess, a son of a U.S. Senator, Woodrow Wilson, Winston Churchill, and diplomats from Germany. It is so very helpful that the author includes six pages of a listing of all the characters. The scene of actions is as diverse moving from Wales to Russia, London, and Buffalo. It is enlivened with descriptions and the actions of World War I and the Russian Revolution. Although Follett may take some liberty with historical accuracy, the book is so very informative and educational. I have never studied the Russian Revolution in such depth.

Concomitant with the war story is the crusade for women's suffrage in the U.K. The political activists present cogent arguments for the expansion of the franchise and the equalization of wages for women workers. In The Fall of Giants the theme of liberal activism and furthering the rights of all people is most evident. One needs to be broadminded and not provincial, forward thinking, and not beholden to the status quo.

To relate completely all the actions and intricacies of the plot would take more time and space than the 850 pages of the novel. With the end of the wars, the peace negotiations and signing of the Versailles treaty, the novel ends in 1924, leaving the reader anxious to have the second part the trilogy at hand. The characters have changed and are at pivotal places in their lives. It doesn't seem fair that we need to wait another year for the continuation of the story. A grand novel with some flaws, yes, but so intriguing and captivating.