Historical novels and film documentaries about wars are commonplace. But with hundreds of millions of people having died in them through the millennia, it has been necessary for authors and cinemakers to limit the scope. If the list of characters goes on and on, the reader and viewer is overwhelmed.
The Century: Winter Of The World by Ken Follett, 818 pp, 2012 Macmillan hardcover. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 950 baht.
In his Century trilogy, encompassing the highlights of the 20th century, ace British writer Ken Follett does his best to confine events to their essentials, but even so presents us with an encyclopaedia of material. Winter Of The World under review, second in the trilogy following Fall Of Giants, contains five pages of dramatis personae.
The story, mainly true the scrivener assures the reader, focuses on the rise of Hitler and its impact on the world. His characters include families in Germany, Russia, the UK and US. We meet Nazis and anti-Nazis, communists and anti-communists, soldiers and politicians, police and secret police, lots of spies.
Plus love affairs, illegitimate children, rape, prostitution, murder, working class, middle class, upper class. The Spanish Civil War, WW II, the Cold War. (No Italian, Chinese or Japanese families are included.) I bet you didn't know that the Fuhrer only gestured with his right hand. And that the Berlin airlift was the brainchild of the British, not the Yanks.
Stalin comes off nearly as badly as Hitler. The Loyalist government might well have won in Spain had the Reds aimed their weapons at General Franco's Nationalists rather than at rival factions. And were it not for his heavy handedness, Western Europe was tending to go communist.
Chapters are devoted to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the Battle of Midway, the building of the atomic bomb, the Russians ferreting out its secrets, Moscow's efforts to debase postwar German currency, the UK turning from Churchill to Atlee. We can discern what will be in the third volume of the trilogy.
A 20th century history buff myself, I have a few questions the author barely touches on if at all about the period. Such as why did Stalin decimate the Red army during the 1930s? Had the French resisted the re-militarisation of the Rhineland, would it have ended Hitler's expansionist acts?
For those who lived through much of the last century, Ken Follett's Century is a vivid reminder. For the younger generation. it's a handbook of what the hullabaloo was all about. Read it by all means.
The Lost Library by AM Dean, 516 pp, 2012 Pan paperback. Available at Asia Books and leading bookshops, 395 baht.
There is a pervading belief that the peoples of the ancient world were more intelligent than those today. If not in technology _ cars and planes, nuclear devices and television are contemporary advances _ but in wisdom and truth. As far back as the 3rd century BC, Pharoah Ptolemy II authorised the construction of a library in Alexandria.
Its purpose was to house all the knowledge _ scrolls, manuscripts, books of history, philosophy, the arts and sciences _ up to and including his reign. The great library contained hundreds of thousands of documents, the exact number unknown, constantly added to and updated. In every known language, it drew scholars from everywhere.
Then, in the 4th century AD it burned down. The arsonist is commonly believed to have been the Christian patriarch, who considered its pagan contents a sin.
Ah, asks British authority on ancient cultures AM Dean in his first novel The Lost Library, what if the contents had been spirited away beforehand and were hidden, still intact? Expecting the reader to suspend disbelief the author has it that a flotilla of ships, unseen by anybody, ferried it all to Constantinople, hiding it in tunnels there. Unclear is why bother to burn the now empty library? Then again, why keep it a secret when displaying it would enhance the Byzantine empire? Dean's explanation is the gist of his 500 plus page story. That to possess its knowledge makes one all-powerful. Emily Weiss, US PhD in history, is the protagonist resolved to find the library. Ambiguous clues lead her from the States to Egypt to Turkey to the United Kingdom. Whomever she talks to is soon killed.
Emily learns that there are two groups: The Librarians of the Library of Alexandria, led by the Keeper, who hope to use the contents for good; the Council, led by the Secretary, who intends using it for evil. Indeed, the Council is attempting a coup in Washington, DC, to unseat the president.
The author informs us that a new Library is being built in Alexandria with the object of rivalling, if not surpassing, the old. Why not return the ancient one there, I wonder? I gather the former one's contents have been transferred to the internet. The question is whether Emily, followed and threatened, can prevent the Council from taking over the American government.
!Is knowing too many facts dangerous? Dean apparently thinks so. I disagree. Even without the ancient texts, our minds are cluttered with facts. The media and the internet, TV and books tell us more than we can process. As to how they affect us personally? Re what the pagans thought _ spare me!
About the author
- Writer: Bernard Trink
Position: Freelance Writer