Edge of Eternity
“George shrugged and said no more. Nowadays he avoided discussions with outsiders. They usually had easy answers: send all the Mexicans home, put Hells Angels in the army, castrate the queers. The greater their ignorance, the stronger their opinions.”
I have really enjoyed each of the Ken Follett novels I have read up until now, and this is no exception. Every once in a while I like to get immersed in a big story. In these books you can stay with the characters you get to know and love for an extended period of time.
Edge of Eternity is the final book in Ken Follett’s Century Trilogy. This novel takes on the seemingly impossible task of tying up about 3000 pages of stories that follow five families – American, German, Russian, English and Welsh – as they navigate through the tumultuous twentieth century. It does a good job.
The first installation, Fall of Giants, covers the period from 1911 through 1923, while the second, Winter of the Word, covers the years 1933 through 1949. This third and final installation spans the largest period of the three, from 1961 through 1989 (or 2008, if you count the epilogue). It covers the rocky Cold War era with incredible historical detail through the stories of characters of all ages and from all walks of life.
If you enjoy books with a large and potentially confusing cast of characters, this book is for you. I really like the way this novel gives us perspectives from various countries, generations, sexes and social statuses. That being said, it does become difficult at times to remember all of the characters and their connections to one another. The five families at the centre of this trilogy are connected more and more deeply (and become more entangled) as the trilogy progresses, and I often found myself trying to remember events involving the families 60 years earlier than the scene I was reading. While this was a welcome task for me, I understand that this kind of character web is not for everyone, so be warned.
In terms of the plot, this installation (like the first two) is very heavily focused on the politics of the era in which the story takes place. Each family is connected to politics in a major way, and this was sometimes tiresome for me. I would have liked to see more of the plot focused on the character relationships outside of the political world. That being said, life in this era (and any era) cannot be easily separated from what was happening in the world politically, so the political focus does provide some necessary context for the thoughts and decisions we see from the characters throughout the story.
In terms of historical detail, this novel is rich. Growing up in Canada, not much time in school was spent on American history, and the European history I studied just barely got into the beginnings of the Cold War era. As a result, I found myself learning a ton from this novel. While I had heard of the Cuban Missile Crisis, J.F. Kennedy’s assassination, the fall of the Berlin Wall and several other major historic moments, I knew little of their political and social details and I thoroughly enjoyed seeing them from various perspectives in this novel. I often found myself looking for more information about these issues and will no doubt continue to do so now that I have finished the trilogy.
After reading the first two books in this trilogy, opening to the first pages of Edge of Eternity felt a bit like going home. I have become heavily invested in the Dewar, Peshkov, Jakes, Leckwith, Williams, Murray, Franck and Dvorkin families (and the hyphenated results). I like the choice Follett made to follow the same families through the century to give some familiarity to an otherwise unstable world. While each book could probably stand on its own, so much of the subtle character detail and so many of the references to past times and generations would be lost if you chose to read one installation of the trilogy in isolation. When I finished this novel I found myself wondering what would happen in the next generations of these families and I was a bit gloomy when I realized there would not be a fourth book to show me these stories.
While I have read mixed reviews of this novel I really enjoyed this book. If you are looking for an accessible and enthralling account of the twentieth century told through interesting and interconnected characters, I would highly recommend giving the Century Trilogy a try. It is quite a commitment to take on books of this size and scope (all together you are looking at 2908 pages . . . yes, I did the math), but there is something for everyone in these stories and I am sure you will learn something while you read. The most profound takeaway from these novels for me was how similar the world today is to the world of yesterday. There were many instances in this book in which I found myself thinking I could see this on the news tonight and not blink an eye. We have been fighting each other, and loving each other, for the same reasons for hundreds of years. By telling these stories, Ken Follett’s Edge of Eternity is as relevant now as it ever will be.