Follett, Ken "Winter of the World" - 2012
The second book of the trilogy about the 20th century, certainly one of the most dramatic centuries, ever, and definitely one that is still with us because it has only just ended.
After our five families have made it through what they thought would be the worst part of their lives, the "War to end all Wars", later called World War I, they now embark on an even darker time, World War II. A lot of our heroes from "Fall of Giants" have grown up, had children and/or died, so it's on to the next generation. They don't have it any easier than their ancestors, they have to fight against their friends, and sometimes even against their family.
Just like in the first book, the author gives a good insight into the lives of the people in the various countries, he introduces both the people who anticipate the war and the evil that will come as well as those who think their country can do nothing bad, that it is all for a greater good.
We see all the negative sides of any war but especially of this one that was so different from all wars ever fought before and hopefully from all of those following. I love that a lot of the characters are directly involved with some of the important events and people throughout this time because it makes us look at the incidents even more closely. We can read some very detailed accounts of battles and other war atrocities and since we got to "meet" the characters before, it makes it even more shocking.
We learn how the Nazis took over Germany and then tried to do this with the rest of the world, how everyone who opposed them was "quietened" in very different ways. We see how the Germans tried to fight them (or not) and how that ended. And if we didn't know it already, we now know for sure that they didn't kill just the Jews but anyone who didn't fit their view of a "decent" person. Whether someone was from a race they didn't know or opposed them, was handicapped or gay, nobody who fitted into their "norm" was safe from their persecution. I have heard a lot of stories from my parents who were still little children when Hitler was elected, but there are a lot of younger people who never had these time witnesses in their lived and there are even more people around the world who don't know about these details, either.
A book mentioned/read by one of the characters: "All Quiet on the Western Front" by Erich Maria Remarque, a novel by a WWI veteran, it's been on my waiting list forever, so I probably should give it a go soon. *
A great quote given by one of the protagonists: "Why was it, Lloyd wondered, that the people who wanted to destroy everything good about their country were the quickest to wave the national flag?" I've been asking myself the same all my life and I guess you must have grown up in Germany (even post-war) to have a weird feeling every time you see people proudly waving their flags. There is always a strange aftertaste.
An excellent narrative of a time that still lingers with us even seventy years later. A fascinating story of one of the worst time in history. Well done, Mr. Follett.
From the back cover:
"Winter of the World picks up right where the first book left off, as its five interrelated families - American, German, Russian, English, Welsh - enter a time of enormous social, political, and economic turmoil, beginning with the rise of the Third Reich, through the Spanish Civil War and the great dramas of World War II, up to the explosions of the American and Soviet atomic bombs.
Carla von Ulrich, born of German and English parents, finds her life engulfed by the Nazi tide until she commits a deed of great courage and heartbreak. . . . American brothers Woody and Chuck Dewar, each with a secret, take separate paths to momentous events, one in Washington, the other in the bloody jungles of the Pacific. . . . English student Lloyd Williams discovers in the crucible of the Spanish Civil War that he must fight Communism just as hard as Fascism. . . . Daisy Peshkov, a driven American social climber, cares only for popularity and the fast set, until the war transforms her life, not just once but twice, while her cousin Volodya carves out a position in Soviet intelligence that will affect not only this war - but the war to come.
These characters and many others find their lives inextricably entangled as their experiences illuminate the cataclysms that marked the century. From the drawing rooms of the rich to the blood and smoke of battle, their lives intertwine, propelling the reader into dramas of ever-increasing complexity."
Third book of the trilogy: "Edge of Eternity"
* I read it in the meantime, see here.