(Side note: I listened to the unabridged audio recording of this book)
Winter of the World is the second book in Ken Follet’s Century Trilogy*. The first, Fall of Giants, followed five families across Europe, Asia, and North America throughout the Russian Revolution and the First World War. Follett continues these stories vicariously through the children of Giants’ characters taking readers on an intricately plotted ride through the world-wide economic, political, and social turmoil of the 1930′s and 40′s. Readers will get to know Carla von Ulrich as she struggles to stand up for what is right, in spite of the dire consequences to defying the Nazis; Lloyd Williams the son of a housemaid-turned-Labor Party Parliament member, who travels to Spain to fight Fascism and witnesses the horrors of civil war; Daisy Peshkov as she climbs the social ladder from Buffalo, New York to London meanwhile her half-brother Greg works to develop a nuclear bomb for the United States and their cousin Volodya spies for Russia, vehemently defending (but eventually questioning) communism; Chuck and Woody Dewar, sons of an American senator who travel vastly different roads to war; and a large supporting cast of complex characters with varying degrees of likability, but all written with such candor and grit as Follett is known for. Though Winter of the World is packed with action, the characters are developed over time and the overlapping plot lines are slowly unveiled, spanning the course of sixteen years. There is an equal amount of description and dialogue, both of which are engagingly and richly written. The tone of the book changes from bleak, melancholy, and sobering as it deals with the realities and hardships of war, to moving, impassioned, and dramatic as the multitude of characters fall in and out of friendship and love. The book is heavy (both figuratively and literally), and not for the faint of heart as sex and violence are detailed with absolute frankness. Fans of historical fiction, particularly that dealing with World War Two from different countries’ perspectives, will enjoy Winter of the World, as will those who enjoy a large assembly of multifaceted characters and deeply interwoven plot lines.
John Lee, (who also narrates Follett’s other historical fictions Fall of Giants: Book One of The Century Trilogy, The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End), effortlessly conveys the emotional developments of the novel’s numerous characters with clarity of tone and pitch. In addition, Lee also captures perfectly the various dialects and accents (Russian, German, Welsh, English, Spanish, French, and more), as well as both male and female characters, throughout the book’s 31.5 unabridged hours of listening time.
Having listened to quite a few audio books, I have developed more than a few personal preferences when it comes to this particular format. That being said, a few criticisms come to mind with this production of Winter of the World. For one, there were relatively few tracks per disc, about twelve, which made each individual track around six and a half minutes long (which, from what I can tell, is fairly standard for audio books). However, I listened to this book while driving, and was therefore not always able to devote my full attention to the story, and occasionally would not miss a minute or so. This meant I would have to go back to the beginning of the track, or hope I hadn’t skipped anything too important and carry on. Secondly, there was not any indication on the final track that I had reached the end of a CD, so I would sometimes inadvertently start to re-listen to the first track. These didn’t stop me from listening to the book in its entirety, but are just a few idiosyncrasies I thought I would address, in case Penguin Audio reads this (ha!). I am already a huge fan of both John Lee and Ken Follett (The Pillars of the Earth is my favorite book of all time…), so it came as no surprise that I loved this book.
*Although it is technically a sequel, Winter of the World could be read as a stand-alone title or as the second book in Follett’s Century Trilogy, which may appeal to readers and readers’ advisors alike.