Her husband, Walter, a member of the Reichstag, prefers a less risky approach to the Nazi threat, while son Erik disagrees: "But the Aryan race must be superior – we rule the world!"
It’s all rather ominous – and obvious. Follett’s no-nonsense style can lack subtlety at times, but he more than makes up for it with his firm grasp of history and ability to juggle multiple story strands, each as attention-grabbing as the last. In great part, he meets the high standard set by the mega-bestselling Fall of Giants. Although its outline never hides too deeply beneath the plot, Winter of the World is another accomplished and consistently entertaining feat.
In this panoramic epic spanning 16 years, from the Depression through the Cold War, diverse characters from around the globe are caught up in major (and some minor) historical dramas. From protests in German streets to the London Blitz to the Manhattan Project’s inner workings, the five families from the first book – Welsh, English, Russian, German, and American – get even further entangled. The focus has moved ahead to a new generation. Some children pursue the same paths as their parents, and new heroes and heroines emerge.
Each fights his or her own battle where it happens, be it in the boardrooms of Washington, D.C., in the air over Midway Island or much closer to home. In keeping with reality, one rarely gets to choose. As Carla von Ulrich, daughter of Maud and Walter, does her courageous utmost to halt Nazi atrocities, Lloyd Williams, the Cambridge-educated illegitimate son of a housemaid-turned-MP, heads to Spain during its civil war to combat fascism, not expecting to fight communists too.
This is an era when a factory worker from St. Petersburg, Russia, can become an American millionaire, and his gorgeous socialite daughter can marry almost anyone she wants. Follett gives them space to grow, and through their experiences creates some very gratifying moments. Following wartime turmoil, the former Daisy Peshkov awakens from her rich, empty existence to establish a meaningful life, and although her uncouth father, Lev, never achieves likeability, the best comeback lines belong to him.
"The world of international politics and diplomacy was quite small," Lloyd Williams thinks at one point. This happens to be true. As he and other ordinary citizens turn into movers and shakers, their many coincidental meetings begin to make more sense. This mammoth saga is all about connections, and Follett also explains with clarity the links among the political and social movements during this darkest
Winter of the World includes nearly every type of Second World War story, drawing together scenes of country house drama, suspenseful front-line action, Soviet espionage, daring resistance, generational conflict and even interracial romance. Most impressively, rather than a patchwork of disparate segments, Follett has produced another seamlessly woven and enjoyably readable work, one which honours the individual acts of bravery that shifted history’s course.
Ken Follett's Winter of the World was published by Dutton in September at $36, or $38 in Canada (hb, 940pp). In the UK, the publisher is Macmillan (£20, hb). This review originally appeared in Canada's Globe and Mail on Saturday, October 13th.