Having recently enjoyed reading Fall of Giants by Ken Follett (see my blog), I was looking forward to the second in the trilogy Winter of the World that covers the period from 1933 to 1949 over 900 pages of fantastic writing. It picks up nine years after Fall of Giants left off, and this time largely follows the stories of the next generation of the characters introduced in Fall of Giants.
In England, Daisy Peshkov, falls in love with the heir to Ty Gywn, Boy Fitzherbert (the Viscount Aberowen), and marries him as he starts to dabble with Fascism in Britain in the 1930s. Together they go to the march in East London that ends in the Battle of Cable Street. On the other side of the lines is Lloyd Williams, illegitimate son of Ethel Williams (now a Labour MP) and Boy’s father Earl Fitzherbert, fighting against Fascism at home, and then abroad when he goes to join the Spanish Civil War. Daisy and Lloyd’s lives are destined to be intertwined in love, life, war and politics.
Meanwhile, in America, Woody Dewar, son of Gus Dewar the senator and his wife Rosa, has fallen in love with Joanne Rouzrokh, like him from Buffalo and also like him fascinated in world events and hoping for her a diplomatic career of her own. After getting engaged, Woody and Joanne take a trip with his parents out to Hawaii to visit Woody’s brother Chuck who is serving at Pearl Harbour as a naval intelligence officer. As a normal weekend builds towards that fateful morning when the Japanese planes arrive, it is in horrifying slow motion that you watch the family out on a rowing boat in the harbour.
In Germany Earl Fitzherbert’s sister Maud is living in Berlin with her husband Walter von Ulrich and their two children, surrounded by the rise of Nazism. Their son Erik becomes a passionate Nazi, whilst their daughter Carla becomes a crucial part of the Berlin resistance, playing her part in feeding key information to the Russians.
Receiving this information is Grigori Peshkov, the half-sister of Daisy, and a rising star in Stalin’s Soviet Union. He is determined that Communism defeats the Nazis and is able to compete with America by developing their own nuclear bomb after the war.
This is one of those books that you have to put down and walk away from when the atrocities of the Holocaust are seen through the eyes of the characters at first hand. From disabled children being killed by lethal injection, to mass shootings in the forests of eastern Europe, to the torture inflicted on enemies of the Nazis, and then on to the atrocities and mass rape committed by the Russians when they arrive in Berlin, this is not easy reading. But it is brilliant to follow such key events of the twentieth century through the eyes of characters who are experiencing them in real time, and it is all the more compelling that as a reader you have the knowledge of the history that they are about to experience.