September 19, 2014

Ken Follett

‘Edge of Eternity,’ 

the final installment in Ken Follett’s sweeping trilogy

“Edge of Eternity,” the latest from best-selling author Ken Follett, is the final volume in a series of doorstops called “The Century Trilogy.” As the title implies, these books examine, from a variety of fictional perspectives, the central events of the 20th century.
The opening installment, “Fall of Giants” (2010), established the template for the enterprise, introducing five families — from England, Wales, Germany, Russia and the United States — whose private dramas mirrored the turmoil of their respective societies. The book addressed class struggle, labor relations and women’s suffrage but found its focus in the Russian Revolution of 1917 and World War I. In the second volume, “Winter of the World” (2012), a new generation emerged to confront the Great Depression, World War II and the dawn of the nuclear age. “Edge of Eternity” opens in 1961, in the early stages of the Cold War.
The events of the 1960s dominate this huge narrative. (More than 800 of the book’s nearly 1,100 pages are set between 1961 and ’68.) Mixing historical figures (Khrushchev, the Kennedys, Martin Luther King Jr.) with the third generation of his fictional families, Follett encapsulates the major dramas of the period. These include the rise of the Berlin Wall, the assassinations of King and the two Kennedys, and the escalation of the war in Vietnam. Follett offers a particularly impressive portrait of the civil rights era and of the frustratingly slow struggle for basic human freedoms. He also makes the familiar story of the Cuban missile crisis seem suspenseful and fresh, recreating the event from the Cuban and Soviet perspectives and illuminating the logistical nightmare involved in secretly transporting nuclear weapons from the Soviet Union to Cuba.
Follett moves a shade too quickly through the ’70s and the Watergate scandal. The emotional payoff — both for the novel and for the series as a whole — comes from Follett’s account of the ’80s and the gradual collapse of communism, a corrupt system “helplessly frozen in a terrified conservatism.”
With great efficiency and a wealth of supporting detail, Follett traces the impact of Mikhail Gorbachev and his era of reform, illuminating the forces that destroyed a monolithic institution. The novel ends with one of the most moving and iconic images of the century: crowds moving freely back and forth through the Berlin Wall.
“The Century Trilogy” covers a large swath of historical territory. Consequently, it offers a good deal more breadth than depth, a common failing in this sort of sprawling narrative. Follett may not be a great literary artist, but he is a commanding storyteller who has taken on an impossibly large task and accomplished it with passion, intelligence and skill. Like its predecessors, “Edge of Eternity” is a solid, rigorously researched work of popular fiction. It’s an honest
that brings back vivid, sometimes painful, memories of the not-too-distant past.
Sheehan is the author of “At the Foot of the Story Tree: An Inquiry into the Fiction of Peter Straub.”
Edge of Eternity
By Ken Follett

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