Fall of Giants: A giant novel worth reading

Ken Follett’s fictional account of the events that lead up to-, the battles of-, and after effects of the First World War, felt like a historic retelling of one of the major cultural turning points of the modern era.

Fall of Giants is the first in a series of epic novels that, through fictional characters and representations of actual ones, takes the reader through 13 1/2 years of wars, revolutions and cultural movements. The characters span across the globe in five different families (American, German, Russian, English and Welsh). Each of the people introduced in the book cross paths at one point or another, whether it be an American diplomat coming to the aide of two Russian slum-raised teenagers, or Ethel the former housewife of Earl Fitzherbert of her village rising up in the political ranks and making an adversary of him in the process.

Follett tells these individual stories, and many others with great attention to detail and with much research to backup the historical happenings of the time. I’ve said many times in my reviews that I’m more attached to novels that have a strong set of characters. I like to know as much about their lives as I possibly can like how their emotions handle different situations or in this case their political views. The characters are all pretty much set in their ways, so in terms of development, it doesn’t occur in most cases, but I feel for them when they’re defeated, even in the case of Earl Fitzherbert.

Another completely different picture of the war was painted for me after reading this. Follett is a respected author who has done many different war-themed novels, so I’m going to go out on a limb and trust the research he did into Fall of Giants. I kind of guessed much of what I knew about the war was propaganda and that it wasn’t the entire picture. Follett takes the reader into the mindset of the average labourer in England or Russia and shows just how conditions were for them, and why things happened the way they did. He also shows how the powers of the time dealt with the events leading up to the war, and eventually those that ended it.

It took me a long time to get through this 985 page beast, but I really enjoyed it. If you haven’t picked it up already I highly recommend you do so. I give Fall of Giants a 4/5.

Three Day Road: A great Canadian novel

I’m happy that “Three Day Road” by Joseph Boyden is the first of my many book reviews on this blog. I’m generally not into the whole ‘Canadian history’ genre, but I was referred to this book on Twitter. It looked relatively interesting and the next time I went to Chapters, I decided I’d pick it up. After reading this one,  I’m ready to explore the genre a little more.

It tells the story of Xavier, a Cree from Moose Factory, and his experiences with his lifelong friend Elijah, in the First World War fighting for Canada against Germany, or ‘Fritz’ as it’s soldiers so often referred to. The book also chronicles the journey of Xavier’s Aunt Niska, an Oji-Cree medicine woman who shunned the residential school life as a child and returned to ‘the bush’ to live the only way she knows how, as a “bush Indian” in Northern Ontario.

I really enjoyed the parallel stories. Each character’s story had left me wanting more whenever they switched. I was eager to know how Xavier was handling the war and his issues with Elijah. The same eagerness followed me while reading Niska’s story, and her issues of living alone and dealing with a world that was far different from that of her childhood.

Boyden was originally going to write the novel chronologically. He explains in the Q&A at the end of the book, his reasoning for the parrallel storyline/jumps in time.

“I thought about what is important to the Cree and Ojibwe. Life evolves around a circle,” he answered. “And so I decided to begin this story near the chronoligical end and then trace through the circle around to where I started.”

Strangely no criticism is coming to me for this book. There’s usually something that gets to me, but not this time.

I give “Three Day Road” a 5/5.

If you’ve read this book please let me know what you thought of it!

I look forward to eventually reading “Through Black Spruce“, Boyden’s followup book and 2008 Scotiabank Giller Prize winner

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