No doubt, this is a great book.
It is a very balanced and accurate recount of World War One and what led to it. Ken Follett stayed close to the historical events, but managed to tell a gripping and passionate story. It is a story about the people living through these horrible and disruptive times, their dreams crushed by tragic events, their losses and sufferings and their heroism.
The overall theme is the struggle and fight of mankind against oppression and exploitation, the undefeatable desire to fight for freedom and equality.
Ken Follett manages to link the major historical trends and events of that era to a fascinating narrative. The revolution in Russia, the plight of the prewar labor class, the insufferable oppression of women, the horror of the trenches in the battlefields of France are seen with the eyes of the participants. Their accounts are authentic and ring true, they go right to your heart.
Events in the UK, Germany, Russia and the United States entwine the fate of families of different classes and origins. Some of the main characters are:
Earl Fitzherbert, a typical British nobleman with all its strength and weakness, tries to stem the tide of political changes. His disrespect of the working class does not keep him from having an affair with a servant, but makes him a stubborn enemy of socialism and real democracy.
Lady Maud Fitzherbert, Fitz's sister and a passionate suffragette, falls in love with Walter von Ulrich and this love is put to a hard test during world war one.
Walter Ulrich is a German nobleman and a former schoolmate of Fitz. Regardless of his patriotism, he is open minded and fighting for peace, quite the opposite of his extreme conservative father Otto von Ulrich.
Billy Williams grows up in a mining town of Wales, fights in France and Russia, gets a first hand impression of poor leadership of officers and becomes on his return to England a fierce fighter for the rights of the working class.
His sister Ethel, repudiated by her family, has to raise a child all by herself and becomes a leading figure in the struggle for women's right to vote.
Gus Dewar, the son of a rich New England family and a friend of Fitz and Ulrich, becomes the political advisor of the American president Wilson.
Grigori and Lev Peshkov grow up as orphans in Russia under the Zsar. While Grigori becomes a leading member of the Bolshevik party, Lev flees to the USA to become a mobster.
Ken Folletts "Fall of Giants" might lack some of the incredible fascination of his "The Pillars of the Earth", but it is one of the best historical novels I read. I am looking forward to read the sequel.
By the way, John Lee did a great job. He managed to give the individual characters a distinct voice and dialect without overdoing it. A real pleasure to listen to.