Monday, August 19, 2013
Fall of Giants by Ken Follett
For some reason, Fall of Giants reminds me a little of Anna Karenina. It's not the prose, it's not the characters, it's the lack of plot. In which case, it also reminds me of those long 600 plus episode Taiwanese soap operas that ahem, older ladies (and me and some of my guy classmates) like to watch.
Basically, Fall of Giants follows the Williams family (Ethel and Billy), the English aristocrats Fitzherberts (Maud, her brother Fitz and his wife the Russian princess Bea), Walter von Ulrich (German), Gus Dewar (American) and the Russian brothers Grigori and Lev. If you look at the characters, you'll notice that most of the countries involved in World War One (and World War Two) are represented here. And that's really what the novel is about - how these different characters interact as war approaches, during war and finally, when the war ends.
I don't think this novel is a class struggle sort of novel. I mean sure, Fritz and Bea are terrible examples of aristocrats. But there's Maud and Walter and Gus (who's upper-class American) - those three are characters that I really liked. And yeah sure, there are the admirable working class, but what about Ethel and Billy's dad, who, to be frank, I did not admire at all. Or Lev, who's a cad (actually, he's like Fritz, but not noble). Bottom line, I don't think that a certain class is stereotyped (for example, all working class people are to be admired) based on the characters themselves.
There's also no obvious villain here. That's because there's no obvious hero and no obvious plot. I mean, Fritz and Lev are my two least favourite characters (and yes, I hoped that they came to a bad end), but they aren't evil. At least, they don't scheme to ruin the lives of others - they're just extraordinarily self-centred. But if I had to point out a 'villian', then I'm going to have to go with the whole concept of war. And the stupidity associated with the concept of "winner take all".
What I really liked were how all these characters were woven together. At first, I didn't see how certain characters could connect with others, but as the novel went on, everything came together. I doubt most of the characters knew how their lives intersected (for example, I doubt that the Russian brothers were aware of Fritz or Ethel or Billy, etc), but as a reader, the lines of connection were quite clear. And the multitude of nationalities served to provide a look at how different countries viewed things.
Lastly, the ending. The ending isn't happy. Sure, the war ended, but we are introduced to Hitler, see the begining of the tragedy that will be Communist Russia and well, if you know anything about modern history, you'll know that the next few years will be brutal and even the hope that the League of Nations brought will be snuffed out really soon.
All in all, I really reccomend this book! Also, special thanks to my friend Nic for buying the book to me and getting it all the way from Singapore to Japan ^^
Note: I read this book as part of the Tea and Books reading challenge.