I am the reader and Ken Follett is the writer, so how can someone even think of an resultant rating less than 5 out of 5. Its impossible, so as per the rules I rate this book a full five!!
But, frankly speaking this (the last) instalment in the Century Trilogy didn’t stand up to the other two. If read as a standalone this book is still a great read, but since it’s a part of a trilogy, comparisons are inevitable. Among the three I still rate Fall of Giants as the best, Winter Of the World as Second best, and this one comes third in a three way race. What went wrong for me in this book? The characters went wrong. Somehow Evie or Maria never matched up to the fiery Maud or Ethel or even Carla. Rebecca from the Von Ulrich clan had the potential to become another crusading Ethel Leckwith, but sadly Follett never transformed her into a main character. Dimka and Tanya are the best characters in this book for me. Dimka, a good man with his unyielding faith in Communism, and Tanya seeing the Commies as a mistake really took the cake away from the Russian characters of the previous books. They were bolder, stronger and their actions were funnier to read. Volodya, Illya or even Grigory never left this deep a mark in my mind.
In a similar way the Americans and the British characters left me a bit down. It was very evident that Evie, Dave or George though strong characters on their own, could never match up to the revolutionary Ethel, the compassionate Maud or Billy Wiiliams. Even Fitz with his wrong conviction was so ripe to be hated, that when he makes a cameo appearance in this book and expresses his true feelings for Maud, both in their 80s, the feeling it created within me, surpassed the sum total of all the feelings created by the current characters. The earlier heroes were far too good. Maria in this instalment was good, but somehow Rosa was mind blowing.
But, this book on its own stood strong and tall. Most books I have read till date that were set in the 60s dealt with Vietnam, Follett used his talent and focused on another buring issues of the 60s in this book, the Civil rights Movement. Just as he highlighted the overshadowed but equally horrifying Action T-4 pogrom of the Nazis instead of the much more highlighted Jewish persecution pogrom. To live in a FREE country and to be denied even the basic human amenities just because of the colour of one’s skin is horrifying. And Follett skilfully highlights how the Kennedys sat and did almost nothing to break the civil rights deadlock, while a Southerner from Texas, Lyndon Johnson stood up and arm twisted the segregationist into seeing sense.
And lastly the beautiful portrayal of the Communists. If all Follett wrote about Kruschev, Brezhnev, the East Germans, the Stasi are true then thank God Communism was shown door by the popular public. They were the worst, they fought against the Nazis and then managed to create a situation where they started competing for the “Worst Dictatorships of the World” prize. They were so full of crap, that even a true Communist like Dimka felt that at last it is better fi there is no Red in the political landscape of the world.
Ken Follett is a master storyteller. His thriller are class apart. And he had proved his worth as a historical fiction author with his previous books too. This book wasn’t an exception. Being a 1100 page book this had every opportunity to become a yawnathon, but just like the previous two books it held pace. Fast, entertaining and a great short course in modern history(on specific issues) this book will definitely go down as one the most favourite books of 2014.