, June 05, 2012
(view all comments by sentina)
A book this huge (973pp) has to be gripping for people to keep reading it, and this one definitely is. A combination of facts of history, politics, religion, poor vs. rich, famine, storms, wars, assassinations, and deeply emotional human relationships and aspirations, it has one of the best love stories I have ever read, one that realistically handles all sorts of severe challenges and persists even into the couple's 50s, where the story ends.
I love the way Follett honors women as equal to or better than men: "... Women could do most of the things that men did. Who was left in charge when the men were fighting wars or going on crusades? There were women carpenters, dyers, tanners, bakers, and brewers... The duties of an abbess, running a nunnery, were exactly the same as those of an abbot..." His women have great strength, love, intelligence, independence, skill, knowledge, and determination.
Set in the Middle Ages, the pace is walking, riding in horse-drawn carts, or horseback riding, and the book is like that. Even though it spans several decades, it always feels present, in the moment, and gratifying to sink into.
The overpoweringly nasty machinations of the Catholic rulers, Kings, Earls, and others who cause extreme suffering and death so that they can have more wealth and power is disgusting and disheartening, especially when you realize that it has always been this way. At the same time, there are good people at every level of the hierarchies, and this is a morality tale of this seemingly eternal struggle.
Aside from explaining more than I can understand or picture about the impossibly high cathedrals that humans amazingly built without modern machines, I learned SO much about England's history, which is significant because so many early immigrants to America were English, including my grandfather.
I really appreciated the way Follett reminded us of past events in the story that we might forget because the book is so long, which he did by putting summaries into the spoken memories of the characters.
Some of what you want to know will happen you don't find out until the very end, and as time runs out, you wonder if it ever will. But somehow, Follett manages to get it all in. And because the story is so informative, vivid, complex, thoughtful, suspenseful, stressful, exciting, and inspiring, I was never attempted to peek.
Even if you don't care about cathedrals, this massive historical epic is educational in one of the best possible ways. It does what novels do best: bring people, places, and events to vivid life. It is as though the souls of these characters have come over the oceans, over the centuries, to touch some part of my mind and spirit forever.