Winter of the World by Ken Follett

Screen Shot 2014-09-27 at 1.52.48 PMWinter of the World by Ken Follett– This #1 New York Times bestseller is book two of a trilogy by Ken Follett. It covers the time period 1933-1949. The book provides another opportunity for those of us who think we know this period of history as well newer generations of readers to experience the tumultuous times before, during and after World War II.Follett does this by following a wide variety of fictional individuals and families who are mainly German, British, Russian and American. The paths of these people frequently cross and interrelate. At the beginning of the book the author has a useful detailed listing of all these people, which could be very helpful in reminding you who they are as the reappear in various parts of the book. Unfortunately, I am an electronic reader and it was not convenient to jump back to that section. We meet most of these characters when they are teenagers. We follow a number of them through their groping first sexual experiences, which seems a little overdone. We do emerge with an inside view of rising fascism in Nazi Germany and the subsequent historical events. We are reminded that some people embraced Nazism and others clearly didn’t understand it until it was too late to object. One of the vignettes which stands out in my mind was the situation where two families in Germany were informed that their developmentally disabled children who were in a particular school were being transferred to a special hospital where “innovative research was being conducted which might help them.” One family member decided to personally investigate the situation with a clandestine visit to the hospital where she learned that their children as well as the old, infirmed, disabled, even babies were systematically being killed. This, of course, was only a small part of the Nazi extermination program. There were many vignettes depicting the horrors of the realities of combat on the various fronts of World War II. There also was some interesting and poignant insight into the plight of the idealistic men who volunteered to fight against Franco in Spain and were ruthlessly routed. There was an unforgettable scene in which a group of people who the readers had come to know, were visiting the brother of one of them who happened to be stationed in then peaceful Pearl Harbor on the day that the Japanese decided to attack. One of the most haunting scenes in the book was described in the chapter which dealt with the Russian soldiers who carried out wide spread rape of German women as they conquered their country in what they considered a payback for what the invading German armies had done to Russian civilians. There also were interesting insights presented into the politics of these times. Some of the people who we were following had personal or work relationships with Stalin, the British Prime Ministers as well as the American diplomats who formulated the post war policies including the Berlin Airlift and the Marshall Plan. All of these relationships and interactions became even more indelible because they were told through characters that the reader had come to know over 15- 20-year period, I certainly will look forward to catching up on Follett’s other two books of this trilogy as well as reading some of his other novels.

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