April 02, 2012

Review: Fall of Giants - Ken Follett

Hello friends! It's with really heavy heart that I come today to write this review. Not because the book is bad, don't fool yourselves, but because it is just too good. I feel, sadly, I'll never be able to write a review that reflects how much it impressed me.

Kenneth Martin Follett is a Welsh writer, graduated in Philosophy by the University College, in London, started his carreer as a journalist, first on the South Wales Echo and then on the Evening Standard. His greatest success was "Pillars of the Eart" and Fall of Giants is his latest book, first one on the "The Century"  trilogy.

Fall of Giants talks about World War I, but without pointing fingers and trying to find guilt or innocence and that’s where it’s different from other books and movies about that theme. Americans are still considered a bit more “good guys” than the others, but all people involved have the right to show their side of the story and how, despite trying, there was no way of avoiding the war, because of the governments and their self defense, ego and greed.
The trilogy The Century talks about the 20th century, branded by its three grand happenings: World War I, World War II and the Cold War, happenings that branded and altered the course of mankind.

The story covers 9 years, from 1911 to 1920, showing the time before the war, the situation in Europe, until the after war and shows some of the reasons for World War II. Not only Europe's situation is covered, but also the Russian Revolution of 1917, the USA and their struggle with Mexico, who believes they were stolen on some territories (California, New Mexico, Arizona, if I'm not mistaken, correct me if I'm wrong because I couldn't find the quote), the situation of the colonies on European countries in Africa, Asia and Oceania, among others.

And how does the author do it? How can he put together so many themes, places and point of view? Well, it's simple and complex at the same time! The book is 900 pages long, maybe that would explain it, but many books are 900 pages long and don't tell such complex stories (like A Game of Thrones or even Lord of the Rings that, despite being wonderful books, they never tell the point of view, for example, of the said villains)... So, what's the trick? The trick, dear readers, are the characters: the main characters are 5 different families, from different social status and nationalities.

- The Williams, welsh, with the "Union Dai" and Cara, Billy and Ethel and Gramper, but, actually, Dai and Cara are called Da and Ma, because who tells the story are Billy and Ethel. Billy is, actually, William Williams and is also called of Billy with Jesus, Double Billy, among others, because everyone has a nickname, since names and last names are all very common and there are many people with the same names.
- The Fitzherberts, noble British, with Fitz, head of the family and a Count, Bea, his wife, a russian princess and Maud, his sister, single at the old age of 23, a sufragette (feminist), with political visions completelly diferent from her brother.
- Robert, from Austria and his cousin, Walter, German, both working for the government of their countries but in England, friends of the Fitzherbert.
- Gus Dewar, American, of a certain American aristocracy, families that have money for generations, soon becomes President Wilson's advisor.
- Lev and Grigori, orfan russian brothers, poor, opressed by the system, trying to run away to the USA to live "The American Dream", in which one manages to go and the other ends up being part of the Russian Revolution.

All of these families cross eachother's path, one of the russians goes through the Williams' town before heading to the USA, ending up in Gus Dewar's city, the Fitzherbert's, friends of Robert and Walter, enemies of the war, Ethel, housekeeper at Fitz's home and, later, getting envolved in politics with Maud and, after that, alone. One of the russians meets Walter, when the german start financing the Bolchevique Revolution in Russia, with the hope that they'll leave the war, among other crossings that I don't want to tell so I don't spoil the story.

Since we get to see all of the sides to the story, the aristocracy and the people, the opressed and the opressors, we get to understand history as never before. Human history was never as clear, it was never, exactly, human. In school, they taught us that German said that and England said this and German caused the war. Basically, despite showing us a lot, what is passed until today is that it was Germany's fault and on this book we can see clearly that many people and countries could've stopped both World Wars, but they didn't want to, the preferred to squeeze and push to make sure their own ego would come out on top, to ensure their pride not to be hurt, that, maybe, they would have more land and ensure their right to boss around other people.
While the book as a whole is a story of struggle, be it in politics, economy or literally (war, violence), it is also a book of love, the two strenghts that move the world: love and hate. Couples get together, get married, have children, couples fight, but usually get together again, specially because of the period - it wasn't "right" for a couple to split up. Some families are destroyed by war, some are united.

What I understood is that the books will be following eachother, maybe with a slight separation of years among them, but connected, using the same families: the couples that started the books, but also their children and grandchildren, until the end of the century and I'm looking forward to read the rest - too bad it'll only come out late this year and who knows when it'll be out in Brazil.

Ken Follett skilfully deals with all these characters and many secondary characters, including real people, like Winston Churchill, Woodrow Wilson, Lênin, Trotsky, Stalin (who's definitely going to who up more on the next books), the King of England, the Russian Kzar, the German Kaizer, etc. And dealing with the different social levels, showing that the popular revolution made a difference, but that the nobleman didn't understand what they were dealing with - specially in Russia, they had no idea.

It shows that there were no good and bad, right and wrong, perfect. Everyone had their motives, their passions, who wanted the war and who wanted the peace, all had their reasons, more or less noble, but none incomprehensible (as much as it was greed, it's easy to underrstand, from the point of view of someone who's always had it all).

It's interesting to see how power corrupts, poverty changes a wealhty person, how some adapt well, seeking everyone's good and some whine more than do something to change: it's a mirror of our current society, after all, who studies history, understand the present.