Cobwebs & Dust Bunnies

“Winter of the World”

A review by Hillary Lutter
“Winter of the World” is one of those books that you don’t just read, but you experience. It remains in your mind for those few sporadic hours when you actually pull yourself away from its pages. It becomes a part of your day, gets into your dreams and remains in your mind long after you finally close the cover, finished.
I began “Winter of the World” about 50 miles outside of Denver on our way home from a Broncos game. I didn’t take a turn driving. I didn’t go to bed that night until well into the wee hours… nor did I the night after, or the night after that… In short, I was worthless at anything else until I finished.
Since Ken Follett entered into the genre of what I call “The Epic,” he has become my favorite author, which I consider a feat in itself since normally I get tired of an author’s writing style after a couple of books. However, Follett’s novels are on an entirely different plain.
“Pillars of the Earth” was Follett’s first of this genre, technically called the historical novel. It was followed, (a number of years later – “Pillars” was first published in 1989), by its sequel, “World Without End.” Both of these I highly recommend, were bestsellers and have now been brought onto the small screen.
Follett’s next junket into “The Epic” genre began a couple years ago with “Fall of Giants,” a story beginning around 1910, that follow a few intertwined families throughout different parts of Europe and Russia. Aristocrats and commoners battle through the trials that were the early 20th Century in that part of the world.
The novel covers the Russian Revolution and World War I and its origins, all from the unique perspectives of the very different characters, who are themselves from very different origins: the poorest of the poor, the criminal, the middle class and the aristocrats orchestrating the launch of the Great War.
“Winter of the World” picks up where “Giants” left off. Beginning in 1933, one becomes reacquainted with the families: American, English, German, Russian and Welsh. Old characters come back to life and have a fresh light shined on the intricacies of their lives. New characters are introduced, adding the depth of oceans to the story. The next generation is brought into the mix, shadowed by the deeds of their ancestors.
A U.S. Senator’s family is entwined with that of a Russian fugitive turned immigrant business mogul. That Russian will forever tragically be linked to an English princess and her husband, the earl; the same earl, whose past can never be buried, but takes on a new life. German families are torn to shreds by separate beliefs. Many of the core families themselves are ripped apart by prejudice, allegiance and circumstance, while they unintentionally become more and more intertwined within each other.
“Winter” follows two of the last German journalists and political activists and their family and friends, before the rise of the Third Reich. It takes you on an eye-opening journey into the defeat of a country’s people and the brilliantly treacherous takeover of a government through intimidation and deceit.
The story drifts through the Spanish Civil War, Hitler’s unrelenting rise to power and on into the first devastating and hopeless years of the Second World War. It takes you to the shores of Pearl Harbor on an infamous Sunday morning in December 1941, and into the halls of the White House, where world-altering decisions are made, including that of the most devastating explosions known to man.
“Winter of the World” takes place in a time of political and economic turmoil and social upheaval, yet unmatched. It is a time when it is unclear who is to be trusted and which beliefs are best for which country. Communism, Socialism, Fascism and Democracy take on meanings a history schoolbook could never give.
The title itself brings to mind hardship and struggle during a dark time in our history. It also serves as a good metaphor for where things are left in the end: 1948 at the beginnings of the long, Cold War.
“Winter” is an at times gritty, unforgiving account of our world’s history. It is a story of romance, suspense, hardship and unforgettable horrors, pieced together in a way few authors could achieve.
This is a story that will stay with you; one that you’ll be sorry has ended. It takes a bit of a commitment and it is not a quick read by any means, but it is worth every missed chore, shirked responsibility and hour of sleep. While “Winter of the World” remains inside my subconscious, I eagerly await the final edition of this trilogy.

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