Another sprawling, multigenerational, continent-spanning saga from long-practiced pop-fiction writer Follett (Winter of the World, 2012, etc.).
One might forgive the reader for taking Follett’s title literally at first glance; after all, who has time for the eternity of a 1,100-plus–page novel, especially one that’s preceded by a brace of similarly hefty novels? Happily, Follett, while not delivering the edge-of-the-seat tautness of Eye of the Needle (1978), knows how to turn in a robust yarn without too much slack, even in a book as long as this. The latest and last installment in the Century Trilogy spills over into our own time, closing with Barack Obama’s electrifying speech in Chicago on winning his first term as president—an emotional moment, considering the struggle some of Follett’s protagonists have endured to see it happen. His Freedom Riders make plenty of history of their own, risking violence not just for stirring up the disenfranchised, but also for engaging in more personal forms of protest. One, George Jakes, comes near the top of Follett’s dauntingly long dramatis personae (in which more than 100 named characters figure); he’s a crusader for justice and often in fraught places at the times in which he’s most needed. George has his generational counterparts behind the Iron Curtain, some of them pretty good guys despite their Comintern credentials, along with a guitar-slinger from East Germany swept into the toppermost of the poppermost in the decadent West. (“They quickly realized that San Francisco was the coolest city of them all. It was full of young people in radically stylish clothes.”) Follett writes of those young hipsters with a fustiness befitting Michener, and indeed there’s a Michenerian-epic feeling to the whole enterprise, as if The Drifters had gotten mashed up with John le Carré and Pierre Salinger; it’s George Burns in Pepperland stuff. Still, fans of Follett won’t mind, and, knowing all the tricks, he does a good job of tying disparate storylines together in the end.
A well-written entertainment, best suited to those who measure their novels in reams instead of signatures.