Book review: Edge of Eternity by Ken Follett
Nobody does ‘epic’ quite like best-selling author Ken Follett…
The final book in his trans-global Century trilogy – a magnificent multi-generational saga that sweeps across history and continents – weighs in at over 1,000 pages and comes complete with a cast of hundreds.
But big is transfixingly beautiful in the case of Edge of Eternity, the novel which rounds off a brilliant blockbuster series featuring family dramas, personal passions and world-changing conflicts, but which could also be read as a compelling standalone story.
The trilogy began with Fall of Giants, set in the early decades of the 20th century, journeyed into the disastrous upheavals of the Second World War in Winter of the World, and now moves inexorably into the Cold War and the turbulent civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Once again we follow the fortunes of five families spread across Europe and America, some free and some oppressed, but whose lives have become intertwined through international events, wars and political crises.
In 1961, decisions are being made in the corridors of power which will bring the world to the brink of oblivion.
In Communist Berlin, teacher Rebecca Hoffmann is unexpectedly called in for questioning by the Stasi, East Germany’s feared secret police. What she learns there is devastating. Hans, her husband of just one year, is an undercover agent for the Stasi who married her only to spy on her.
Rebecca’s goal is the death of Communism but, hurt and recklessly angry, her actions now will have dangerous repercussions for her family, not least her musician brother Walli who longs to escape across the Berlin Wall to Britain to become part of the burgeoning music scene.
In the United States, George Jakes, a bright young mixed-race lawyer in President John F.Kennedy’s administration, is a fierce supporter of the civil rights movement. It’s a passion he shares with the love of his life Verena who works for Martin Luther King.
When the two board a Greyhound bus in Washington on a Freedom Ride to the Deep South to protest against segregation, they begin a fateful journey that will change their lives forever.
Meanwhile, in Soviet Russia activist Tania Dvorkin narrowly evades capture for producing an illegal news sheet. Her actions are made all the more perilous as her twin brother Dimka is a rising star in the heart of President Nikita Khrushchev’s Communist Party in the Kremlin.
As Dimka becomes a key player in the perilous nuclear stand-off between the Soviet Union and the United States, TASS news agency reporter Tania will travel the world.
Their destinies are all linked and in ways they could never have imagined possible…
Follett never fails to put the humanity into history and this ambitious, expansive and emotion-packed trilogy has captured the cataclysmic 20th century through the eyes of a diverse and colourful collection of people.
As always, Follett has used meticulous and exhaustive research for his wide canvas, seamlessly weaving fact and fiction and encompassing everything from the American civil rights movement and the Cuban missile crisis to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the birth of rock and roll.
We have witnessed both ordinary and extraordinary people as they fight to stay alive and win their rightful place in society, endure life’s slings and arrows, negotiate change on an unprecedented scale and struggle to comprehend what the future may hold for them.
Edge of Eternity, the final chapter of their story, provides a suitably satisfying, gripping and ultimately moving finale to a superbly imagined and momentous reading experience.
A factual history lesson from the master of fiction…
(Macmillan, hardback, £20)