This third and final book in the Century Trilogy demonstrates historical fiction done well. The novel, spanning the years from 1961 to 1989 with an epilogue dated November 4, 2008, gives a perspective of those times of incredible political and social turmoil as seen through the eyes of several different families. The characters are descended from many that were introduced in FALL OF GIANTS, continued in WINTER OF THE WORLD, and have significant roles during this period of revolution and change. Through their eyes and involvement, the reader experiences events such as the American Civil Rights movement, the Cuban Missile Crisis, as well as the assassinations of US President John F Kennedy, Senator Robert Kennedy and the Rev. Martin Luther King. In addition, the war in Vietnam, Nixon's resignation and the fall of Communism, along with commentary on publishing, television programming, folk music and rock and roll are related through the various viewpoints of the characters in this novel intertwining the fictional with the real historical figures in the unique way that only Ken Follett can write. That's a lot of material for just one novel and this one weighs in at a hefty 1120 pages.
Assuming a certain level of research and allowing for the license of relative fabrication provided when writing fiction, the novel maintains a fast pace switching to and fro between the different time periods, countries and characters involved in the pivotal historical moments. There is a bit of suspension of disbelief required, but forgiven, as the interaction between Follett's characters and those key people involved in genuine events make the narrative unfold smoothly. For the most part, I relished the book and the history lessons within. Since I am not a historian, I can make no judgment about the accuracy of each situation as it is described and my review and enjoyment of reading it has no bearing on its historical merit even if a few things seemed a bit dubious with some political bias on the part of the author a bit evident.
Now, the truth is that there was definitely an unneeded and distracting emphasis in the book that I did not particularly appreciate and that was Follett's continual focus on the sex lives of his characters. In fact, if most of that was left out of the novel, I suspect it could be shortened by at least 100 pages or more! But perhaps others like this type of salacious drivel, but to me, it didn't enhance or add any value to the story. The characters definitely had some problems in their love lives and relationships but I think that many unnecessary scenes -- such as one describing two women naked in front of a mirror trying on bras -- were a waste of Follett's talent. I just found myself skipping over and moving past when it became more than annoying. For all that Follett's many strong female characters do to advance the cause of women everywhere, they certainly often don't come off as really liberated as often they are reduced to stereotypes. I was able to ignore most of this in the novel and just get to the plot movement without ever feeling very attached to any of the romantic drama -- which suited me fine. I would really like to know if this is noted by other readers and what thoughts they have about it.
Finally, I do recommend this book and welcome the other reviews that are sure to come regarding historical accuracy of the events described in the novel. It brought back many memories of a time that I lived through but was too young to know much about while it was going on. Certainly the years of history and current events classes in school did not give me the same interest in the subject that I have now. I reminded myself often that this was not a research paper but a story that maybe, could, might have happened sort of like this.
Thank you to FirsttoRead via Penguin Books for the e-book ARC to review.
I love Ken Follet books, filled with great families and great stories. This one is long and in some places it could have summer it up quicker, but really it was so wonderful to read about these families in such a realistic way weaved with "real" people of history it is a great trilogy.