Fall of Giants
Ken Follett’s “Century Trilogy” is off to a strong start with "Fall of Giants" – a massive, compelling story of World War I.
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Happenstance and coincidental meetings abound as Follett conjures twists and turns of fate that feel true. Thus, Winston Churchill arrives at Earl Fitzherbert’s home in Wales in the spring of 1918 as both bane and blessing to the aristocracy.Skip to next paragraph
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The earl, known as Fitz, is hoping Churchill and others invited for an Easter weekend meeting can come up with ideas to stop the Bolshevik movement in Russia. Follett has Churchill bound into the earl’s home with the expected relentless bravado, “a small, slight figure with red hair and a pink complexion. There was rain on his boots. He wore a well-cut suit of wheat-colored tweed and a bow tie the same blue as his eyes. He was forty-three, but there was still something boyish about him as he nodded to acquaintances and shook hands with guests he did not know.”
Another central fictional character, Walter von Ulrich, the military attaché at the German Embassy in London, finds himself funneling cash to the other side of the Russian Revolution, led by Vladimir Lenin.
As von Ulrich boards a train carrying Lenin back to Russia for the final push – make that, putsch – the blend of cloak-and-dagger and historical reference suit Follett’s strengths.
“They sat in a compartment under a dim electric light that gleamed off Lenin’s bald head,” he writes. “Walter was tense. He had to do this just right. It would be no good to beg or plead with Lenin, he felt sure. And the man certainly could not be bullied. Only cold logic would persuade him.”
Leon Trotsky, David Lloyd George and Kaiser Wilhelm II also make notable appearances in these pages. Making these extended cameos plausible while crafting scenes and characters memorable enough to dovetail and match actual historical events begins with research, to be sure, but ends with skillful plotting.
It is here that “Fall of Giants” offers the reader consistent satisfaction.
Time and again, Follett demonstrates the ravages visited by short-minded political decisions on the peoples who must endure them. Labor strife, food shortages, gender inequities, and other terms that sound so bland in so many accounts come to life when a pair of Russian brothers sees their mother shot in front of the Winter Palace by the czarist regime – and again when coal miners’ widows are left homeless because of their husbands’ unnecessary deaths on the job.