Author: Ken Follett
Publisher: Penguin Pages: 1066
Ken Follett can tell us intriguing stories with remarkable ease. There are no literary embellishments, hardly any metaphors and symbols, and absolutely no brain-teasing techniques in his novels. He tells us the story directly and boldly. Fall of Giants is his latest novel that combines history with fiction as delightfully as he did it in The Pillars of the Earth and its sequel, World Without End.
Fall of Giants is the first volume of what Follett calls “the century trilogy.” It tells the story of the First World War. The historical aristocratic rulers of the pre-War Europe walk and talk with Follett’s fictional characters weaving a stirring tale with the real history staring at us starkly at every nook and corner.
The novel is as much about the fall of the ‘giant’ nations like Germany and Russia as well as their emperors as about the fall of aristocracy itself even in other countries like England which won in the War.
The plot moves dexterously from one country to another without ever making the reader feel the transition. Follett’s fictional characters too move across national boundaries for various reasons, especially war-related. They fall in love as easily as they fight for their nation. Sometimes the love crosses national borders too as in the case of the German Walter and the British Maud. Sometimes the love is not really love but plain lust as in the case of the Russian Lev and Russian-American Olga. Occasionally the love may have to wait in the sidelines as in the case of William Williams and Mildred. There is much illicit love and lust too.
But the War haunts all including the ordinary people like a Doppelganger. Eloquently does Follett bring out the misery of the Russian peasants waiting all night before a bakery for a loaf of bread they may get in the morning. He portrays the wretchedness of the miners in Wales. He also shows us the misery of the post-War Germany where a billion-mark bill cannot buy as much a one-dollar bill.
The history in Fall of Giants is excellently researched. Follett’s portrayal of the historical characters remains true to the original. The historical events come alive all through the novel. But the novel lacks the mystery and the pristine charm of the world depicted in The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End, precisely because we are quite familiar with the history of the First World War. Secondly, the characters of Fall of Giants fail to linger in our minds unlike, say, Merthin and Caris of World Without End or Prior Philip and Tom Builder of The Pillars of the Earth.
The novel is a fascinating thriller, nevertheless. The poignancy of Fitz and his legal heir standing face-to-face with Fitz’s former housemaid and the flame of his heart along with his bastard son on the staircase between the Commons and the Lords areas in the British Parliament House will strike an unforgettable chord in the reader’s heart. Giants like the aristocratic Fitz in whose presence people like the housemaid had to turn to the wall with bowed heads in deference have suffered as great a fall as Germany did in the War and the Russian aristocrats did as a result of the Revolution that went with the War. In other words, the novel is not only about the fall of giants; it is also about the rise of the common man. And in America it is the villain that is on the rise, it seems so at least in the story of Lev and Olga.