Literature: The Century Trilogy
The Century Trilogy
is, as the name indicates
, a trilogy of novels by Ken Follett
which tell the history of the 20th century through the eyes of five interrelated families—American, German, Russian, English, and Welsh. The trilogy consists of the following novels:
- Fall of Giants (2010): Covers 1911 to 1923, but most of the novel is set during World War One.
- Winter of the World (2012): Covering 1933 to 1949, focusing on the rise of the Nazis and World War II
- Edge of Eternity (2014): Covering 1961 to 2008, focusing on the Cold War and the American Civil Rights Movement.
The five families are:
- The Dewar family—aristocrats with high connections in the American government.
- The Fitzherbert family—ditto, except they're British.
- The von Ulrich family—ditto, except they're German.
- The Peshkov family—two Russian peasants, one who emigrates to America and one who stays behind and gets involved in the Russian Revolution
- The Williams family—Welsh coal miners.
The series as a whole provides examples of:
- Anguished Declaration of Love: Happens from time to time.
- Author Tract:
- Fall of Giants—It sure does seem like Ken Follett is a Labor Party voter.
- Edge of Eternity—Similarly, Follett makes it very clear that he thinks that the Social Democrats were the heroes of the twentieth century.
- Been There, Shaped History: The characters often have small but pivotal roles concerning the outcome of crucial historical events.
- Black Gal on White Guy Drama:
- In Book 2, Jacky Jakes and Greg Peshkov have an illicit affair.
- In Book 3, Maria Summers has to keep her affair with a white man a secret, though their ethnicities are by far not the only problem. He is also married. Oh, and by the way, he is also the President of the United States.
- Black Sheep:
- In Winter of the World, Erik von Ulrich is the only Nazi in a family of Social Democrats.
- In Edge of Eternity, Cam Dewar is a Republican, while the rest of his family is rather leftist.
- Contrived Coincidence / One Degree of Separation:
- In the first book:
- Was it pushing things too far for Earl Fitzherbert and Walter von Ulrich to meet each other in no-man's-land on the day of the 1914 Christmas Truce?
- Or for Gus Dewar and von Ulrich to be on opposite sides of the battle for Chateau-Thierry?
- In the second book:
- The same maid serves Daisy Peshkov and is sweet on Lloyd Williams.
- A Jewish girl who knows the von Ulrich family in Berlin emigrates to America and becomes Daisy Peshkov's friend.
- The obnoxious NKVD agent who irritates Volodya Peshkov also turns out to be courting his sister.
- The Dewar family goes to Pearl Harbor in time for the Japanese attack.
- And the biggest of all has to be Boy getting shot down right in front of Lloyd.
- In the third book:
- Tanya Dvorkin travels to the Leipzig Book Fair in order to find a publisher who can print her friend's book in the West. That publisher happens to be represented by Anna Murray, the daughter of the Jewish girl mentioned above.
- When Rebecca travels to Washington as part of the West German government's delegation, George Jakes's Love Interest Maria happens to be part of the American negotiating party. Furthermore, Rebecca's Hungarian boyfriend also meets Dimka at one point.
- Dave Williams' guest in his TV show's first episode is the father of his cousin George's (other) Love Interest Verena.
- Everyone and their mother seems to have a television set by Franck, the company owned by Rebecca's and Walli's father.
- At one point, George Jakes is observing how Cuban exiles under the aegis of the CIA are destroying infrastructure in a Cuban habour. A little while later, Tanya Dvorkin - George's distant cousin - is examining the damage at what seems to be the exact same place.
- Everybody Has Lots of Sex: A Ken Follett trademark.
- Historical-Domain Character: Many. The POV characters wind up interacting with most of the Great Men of their era.
- Loads and Loads of Characters
- The Mistress: Lev Peshkov has several over the course of two books.
- Sequel Hook: Fall of Giants ends with some bitter Germans taking interest in a rabble-rousing politician named Adolf Hitler.
- Winter of the World ends with the Cold War well underway (the Soviets detonate a nuclear bomb, and the Berlin Airlift marks the end of any trace of cooperation between the Soviets and the West).
- Shout-Out: In Giants Fitz sees a church from the year 1000 and wonders why people are interested in old churches.
- This may also be a subtle bit of characterization from cathedral enthusiast Ken Follett, since Earl Fitzherbert is the closest thing to an antagonist that the first book has.
- In Winter, Joanne says her hangover feels like the Black Death.
- Spiritual Successor: To The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. After writing thrillers and spy novels for most of his career, Follett told the story of 12th and 14th century England (respectively) through those two novels about the residents of a fictional English town called Kingsbridge. The Century Trilogy is recounting the events of the 20th century through a similar narrative style.
- Switching P.O.V.:
- Giants has eight POV characters—Gus Dewar, Earl Edward Fitzherbert and his sister Maud, Walter von Ulrich, brothers Grigori and Lev Peshkov, and Billy Williams and his sister Ethel.
- Winter has a new set of of POV characters—the children of the first set. This time it's Woody and Chuck Dewar, Daisy and Greg Peshkov (Lev's children), Lloyd Williams (love child of Earl Fitzherbert and Ethel), Carla and Erik von Ulrich, and Volodya Peshkov (Grigori's son). The only POV character outside of the original circle is Thomas Macke, a Gestapo officer.
- And Eternity continues this with their children: Carla's kids Walli, Lili and Rebecca, Woody Dewar's son Cam, Lloyd and Daisy Williams' son Dave, Greg Peshkov's son George Jakes, and Volodya Peshkov's niece and nephew Tanya and Dimka Dworkin. (These last two are the kids of Volodya's sister and her NKVD husband, which means yes, they are descending from one of the last book's villains!) Two additional POV characters are Jasper Murray, the son of Carla's and Daisy's friend Eva Rothmann, and Maria Summers, George Jakes' Love Interest.
- The Von Trope Family: The von Ulrichs.
Fall of Giants provides examples of:
- Dramatic Irony: At the end of the novel, Maud greets news of the failure of the Beer Hall Putsch with a relieved "Thank God that's over."
- Groin Attack: Lev Peshkov kicks a thug in the nuts.
- Historical In-Joke: Fitz makes a comment about how Bolshevism should be "strangled at birth". A visiting Winston Churchill likes that turn of phrase.
- Hustling The Mark: Lev Peshkov does this to Gus Dewar in Petrograd.
- Law of Inverse Fertility: Earl Fitzherbert and his wife are struggling to conceive but the earl knocks up maid Ethel Williams pretty quickly.
- Love Across Battlelines: Walter and Maud, being German and British respectively during WWI.
- Man on Fire: After the explosion in the Aberowen coal mine.
- One Head Taller: Gus towers over Rosa, as he is very tall and she is rather petite.
- Red October: Grigori is an enthusiastic participant.
- Riches to Rags: Rich, aristocratic Lady Maud Fitzherbert winds up playing a piano in a seedy German bar after her brother cuts her off and her husband's family is ruined by the war.
- Shot at Dawn: The unfortunate fate of a fifteen-year-old boy who panics and bolts as troops are assembling to go over the top at the Somme.
- A Taste of the Lash: Lev receives this after impregnating the daughter of his powerful and Russian-mafia style employer
- World War One
Winter of the World provides examples of:
Edge of Eternity provides examples of:
- Amazingly Embarrassing Spouse: Cam Dewar's Polish wife during a high society dinner in the US.
- America Saves the Day: Averted. During The Great Politics Mess-Up, Cam Dewar's colleague points out that the USA has actually contributed rather little to the fall of communism, in spite of all their efforts, which often even proved to be counterproductive.
- As You Know: "Mom, the Supreme Court has ruled that segregation on interstate buses and bus stations is unconstitutional—but those Southerners just defy the law." Followed a couple paragraphs later by "You grew up privileged. At least, you did after your white father came back into our lives when you were six years old."
- Brilliant but Lazy: Lloyd considers his son Dave to be this, because he knows that he is not stupid, but can't quite understand why Dave does care more for playing guitar than learning for school. Many years later, Dave's own son John Lee gets diagnosed with dyslexia, and Dave figures that this must have been the actual reason for his problems too.
- Bullying a Dragon: Dimka intentionally tries to evoke this when it comes to the confrontation between him and Natalya's gangster husband. It works, but the narration makes it clear that Dimka himself is feeling scared as Hell the whole time.
- Chuck Cunningham Syndrome: Erik von Ulrich, one of the surviving viewpoint characters from Winter of the World, never even gets mentioned here.
- CIA Evil, FBI Good: The CIA (for whom Cam Dewar is working) doesn't get away very well in this book. The FBI too at first, but after the dead of J. Edgar Hoover, they start taking their job seriously and investigate against Richard Nixon.
- Cool Old Guy and Cool Old Gal: Most viewpoint characters from Fall of Giants come off as this, due to the plot now being told from the perspective of their grandkids.
- Distant Finale: The last chapter ends with the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, while the epilogue takes place at the start of Barack Obama's presidency in 2008, thus skipping the entire 90s and most of the 2000s.
- Free-Love Future: In The Sixties, Beep Dewar believes that this utopia has been achieved now. Dave Williams, her boyfriend at this time, catches her in bed with Walli Franck and strongly disagrees.
- Gold Digger:
- Heel-Face Turn: Earl Fitzherbert has mellowed out considerably in his old age. He's introduced warmly congratulating his former maid and old flame Maud on being given a peerage, and finally wants to be part of his illegitimate son and grandson's lives.
- Informed Judaism: Jasper and Anna Murray are Jewish on their mother's side, but this fact rarely gets brought up. Rebecca's biological parents have been Jews too, but because she has been adopted and raised by the non-Jewish family Franck, this is a Justified Trope in her case.
- Maligned Mixed Marriage: Verena's parents, wherein the father is black and the mother is white. Due to them being celebrities, everyone tries to be polite around them, but the discrimination is nevertheless noticeable.
- A Man Is Not a Virgin: "Dimka Dvorkin was abashed to be a virgin at the age of twenty-two."
- Ramming Always Works: Walli escapes into West Berlin by driving a truck right through the barrier at the border gate. Unfortunately, he kills a border guard in the process, which means that, apart from the feelings of guilt this is causing him, he can't go back to East Germany without the risk of getting arrested for murder.
- Reassigned to Antarctica:
- Early in the story, the TASS reporter Tanya Dvorkin gets punished by being resigned to Cuba - just in time for witnessing the Cuban Missile Crisis firsthand.
- Something similar happens later to Jasper Murray: As punishment for all too critical news reports, the TV channel he works for fires him, and the only job he can get after that is as correspondent in Europe - shortly before the Hole in Flag revolutions are about to start.
- Tangled Family Tree: By the end of the trilogy, all five main families have intermarried. John Lee is even directly blood-related to four of these families! His family tree goes like this.
- State Sec: Hans Hoffmann is a Stasi agent with a personal grudge against the Franck family.
- "Well Done, Dad" Guy: Greg Peshkov tries to reconcile with his son George (successfully), Fitz with his son Lloyd (less successfully, but he manages to build up a relationship to his grandson Dave), and when Lev Peshkov meets his son Volodya for the first time, he tells him that he (the son) hasn't missed much, but he (the father) has.