Absent the inclusion of unnecessary titillating sex scenes, which often trivialized the importance of this work of historic fiction, this is a riveting tale which examines the forces leading up to World War One, including the background and often incidental reasons for each country’s entrance into that war, and introduces very briefly, the beginning of Adolph Hitler’s influence on Germany which is sure to be covered in book two of this series, “Winter of the World”.
This book thoroughly highlights the often foolish reasons that politicians use to enter into conflict and examines the negative results of that stupidity on lifestyles, coupled with the more horrible waste of human life. The picture painted, of this historic time is highly descriptive and informative with the people from each country, complete with characterizations of their lifestyles and mores, defined carefully and accurately.
On this audio, the reader’s ability with accents and tone is exceptional and each character, when speaking, is very clearly identifiable and authentic. I think, therefore, that listening to this book, rather than reading it, might be a more exciting experience. You will feel like you are hearing the people directly involved or perhaps you might even feel like a voyeur listening into their conversations and observing their experiences.
The thoughts and behavior of the people together with an exploration of their separate cultures, in England, Russia, France, America and Germany, are underscored and the standards that separated the classes and their values were clearly drawn and exhibited by the main characters in the way they interacted with each other. The poor, as well as the rich, had their own class system with each group victimizing the group beneath them. The wealthy exploited the poor, the aristocrats abused the commoners, the more experienced workers preyed on those with less experience. Often, victims of these times were merely chattel, property, treated as barely human and extremely dispensable. The injustices of the time were widespread and often unrestrained.
The women often compromised their values either to survive or because they were in love and when abused by irresponsible men, who took advantage of their neediness, ignorance and naïveté, these women were left to survive on their own, suffer the consequences of unwanted pregnancies, without help, which was almost an impossibility, and were forced to continue to live in a decadent lifestyle, perpetuating their underclass and spawning children who were doomed to an impoverished existence. The times seemed to encourage a pattern of behavior which emphasized the enjoyment and than exoneration of a pattern of illicit behavior. I wondered often if the means was used to justify the ends no matter how unjust the process.
The thread that runs through and connects the characters of this book is often that of those fallen women who have been taken advantage of by arrogant and selfish men who then gave little thought to their behavior and its consequences. The often incestuous way the characters connect can stretch the imagination, but it does work to sew the story into a finished product.
The quiet anti-Semitic attitude of the times is developed in almost subtle ways, hinting at it, so the reader is not aware of the negative images portrayed until it is upon them.
The book is very long, 24 segments in the audio and just under 1000 pages in the hard copy. It does require some endurance since it can get tedious.
The main characters come from the working poor in Wales, the aristocracy in England, the upper classes of Russia and the wealthy of America. The unexpected intersection of these character’s lives and the clash of their cultures develops this story. It was definitely a time of change and great danger for the world and one is left deciding whether or not any of it was worth it. Were any of the goals they were trying to accomplish, achieved? Was the death and destruction worth the prideful need of the leaders of each country? Was anything learned from the awful experiences? One has to wonder if mankind is capable of peaceful, honest negotiation and/or unselfish participation in any event. History would suggest, perhaps not.