Winter of the World

Written by Ken Follett
Review by Nanette Donohue

The second in Follett’s Century Trilogy follows the main characters from Fall of Giants and their children as they navigate the major events of the 1930s and 1940s. Readers will see the rise of Nazi Germany, the epic battles of World War II, and the birth of the atomic era through the eyes of men and women from several countries.

The opening sets the stage. Maud Von Ulrich (née Fitzherbert) is now a British expat living in Germany and married to the man she fell in love with during the Great War. Her son is drawn to Nazism, a movement anathema to the rest of their family, and conflict ensues. The Williams family’s fortunes rise as both Billy and Ethel are elected to Parliament, and the long-separated Peshkov brothers continue to grow further apart, with Grigori rising in Stalin’s army and Lev living a life of infidelity and petty crime in upstate New York. Boy Fitzherbert follows his father’s lead, becoming trapped in a loveless marriage with a woman who loves another man.

Follett is at his best when there’s action and intrigue, and there’s plenty of that, especially in the scenes set before and during World War II. A dramatic account of the Battle of Midway serves as a memorable climax to the subplot encompassing the war in the Pacific, while a dramatic confrontation between Boy Fitzherbert and his half-brother Lloyd Williams is a memorable scene from the European front.

The novel isn’t always nuanced, and some events are glossed over in the name of moving the plot forward. However, it’s to Follett’s credit that this almost 1000-page book never seems to drag, and that he manages the large cast of characters so deftly. Winter of the World is a grand accomplishment, and one of the most thoroughly enjoyable books I’ve read this year. I’m looking forward to the next installment.