Follett continues the trilogy begun with Fall of Giants (2010) with a novel that ranges across continents and family trees.
It makes sense that Follett would open with an impending clash, since, after all, it’s Germany in 1933, when people are screaming about why the economy is so bad and why there are so many foreigners on the nation’s streets. The clash in question, though, is a squabble between journalist Maud von Ulrich, née Lady Maud Fitzherbert—no thinking of Brigitte Jones here—and hubby Walter, a parliamentarian headed for stormy times. Follett’s big project, it seems, is to reduce the bloody 20th century to a family saga worthy of a James Michener, and, if the writing is less fluent than that master’s, he succeeds. Scrupulous in giving characters major and minor plenty of room to roam on the stage, Follett extends the genealogy of the families introduced in the first volume, taking into account the twists and turns of history: If Grigori Peshkov was a hero of the Bolshevik Revolution, his son Volodya is a dutiful soldier of the Stalin regime—dutiful, but not slavishly loyal. Indeed, most of the progeny here spend at least some of the time correcting the mistakes of their parents’ generation: Carla von Ulrich becomes a homegrown freedom fighter in Germany, which will have cliffhanger-ish implications at the very end of this installment, while Lloyd Williams, son of a parliamentarian across the Channel, struggles against both fascism and communism on the front in the Spanish Civil War. (Lloyd’s a perspicacious chap; after all, even George Orwell needed time and distance from the war to gain that perspective.) Aside from too-frequent, intrusive moments of fourth-wall-breaking didacticism—“Supplying weaponry was the main role played by the British in the French resistance”—Follett’s storytelling is unobtrusive and workmanlike, and he spins a reasonable and readable yarn that embraces dozens of characters and plenty of Big Picture history, with real historical figures bowing in now and then. Will one of them be Checkers, Richard Nixon’s dog, in volume 3? Stay tuned.
An entertaining historical soap opera.