Author: Ken Follett
Publication Date: 2010
Source: Book club borrowed
Genre: Historical Fiction
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Fall of Giants is an epic novel spanning 13 years from 1911 to 1924. It follows a group of intertwining families as they live through the First World War, the Russian Revolution and the fight for women's suffrage. Billy and Ethel Williams are a brother and sister living in Aberowen, Wales. Billy starts work at the coal mine at thirteen as his father did before him and Ethel works as a housekeeper at the Earl's estate. Lord Fitzherbert and his wife, a Russian princess, have grown up with all the privileges that their titles provide. Lady Maud (Fitz's sister) is a staunch activist and soon finds herself falling for a German aristocrat, Walter von Ulrich. Gus Dewar is an American who carves out a career working in the president Woodrow Wilson's campaign while Lev & Grigori Peshkov are two orphaned Russian brothers living in Petrograd and trying to find a way out of Russia and to America.
This was a fascinating work of fiction that interwove historical figures and events with fictional characters and stories while portraying a real sense of the political motives of the war. There were plenty of fascinating parts of this novel that drew an incredible picture of the time.
At the very start of the novel we are introduced to the Welsh coal mines and the lives of the miners who spend so much of it underground. I found this part of the novel really well written and incredibly interesting. Also the early parts of the novel depict the lives of Lord Fitzherbert and his family and the way of life of the English aristocracy. I'm currently watching Downtown Abbey which I absolutely adore and which is also set in the same time and centered around a Lord's estate. Since that TV show depicts uniforms and clothes in such particular fashion I was able to more easily picture and interpret scenes in this book. It really enhanced it for me.
One of the things that I loved about this novel is that you are able to see stories from many different countries involved in the war. It clearly explains political motives and events sequences that lead up to the countries declaring war and their agendas as the years go by. But because you are so invested in the characters you can see it from all points of view. I thought that Follett did an incredible job of providing an interesting mix of politics and war strategy with the personal effects of war on characters in the novel.
It is a large book and some people will be put off by that. But I highly recommend you give this book a try. I'm quite surprised that it didn't seem to get as good reviews as his other books (Pillars of the Earth and World Without End). Yes I loved those books but this one is different, set at a completely different time and should be reviewed in it's own context. This is much slower pace as it delves a lot deeper into politics and the like so if you're not into history you may find this a little too slow for your liking. But personally I think this novel was fantastic and well worth a read.