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Book Review: ‘Winter of the World’ by Ken Follet

January 26, 2014

Took me a real l… ong time to finish this book whose story covered three continents:  America, Europe and Asia.  Now i feel as if i know all the individual characters personally 🙂

To someone who has not delved into depths of the World War II, the book is highly informative.  Strangely i use fictions to learn in an interesting manner parts of history, not accurate that may be.  Finally this is someone’s vivid imagination but through the author’s eyes its possible to get a rough idea of what could have transpired, although one must always keep in mind the narration is NOT really factual history with all those extra dosages of exaggerations and corroborations and fictional characters.

This is the first time i am also highly disappointed with Ken Follet.  Its long tale so i cannot cover all points.  It suffices to say that to a man who could devote pages to Pearl Harbour attack by Japanese, there was no urge or desire or time or space to describe in detail the Hiroshima, Nagasaki bombings that killed several thousands of civilians which is an inexcusable crime against humanity committed by Americans until today.  Yes, a warning or testing like a demonstration must have been enough as it is feebly expressed through a character somewhere towards the fag end by the author, but this is very wrong Follet and you must have known that!  Are you kind of seeking off-handed apology by any chance? The author loses his neutrality here in my opinion even though i admit, the bombing comes finally after Hitler’s suicide.   By this time since starting the book, the reader also must be tired, as I was for a fact.  Wanted the book to end, that’s it.  The justification the author gives through the said character is that, the bombing was needed to bring the war to a close at the fastest.  But this simply won’t do and Follet must know that, and I am shocked at the pathetic attempt of his to scale-down the heinous massacre of thousands and thousands of innocent lives, perhaps first of its kind in world history.  I am confused because I did not expect this from a man who had devoted pages and volumes to Hitler and other developments around the world, especially the Pearl Harbour drama, (but rushed up when it came to Hiroshima for which I had been all along waiting).  Is Follet a racist?  This is what I am asking myself now.  All the respect I had had for him for years vanished with this one book sorry.  I now regret that i liked his earlier book ‘Triple’ that favoured Jews/Israelis and made the entire Arab race look like a bunch of fools.  I am partial (and i am entitled to my opinion because i am not an author like Follet but a humble housewife!) and I do not look at Arabs or Moslems favourably usually so that really did influence my flow of thought when I read the book.  But my Asian rooting especially Indian/Hindu rooting also makes me relish Khalid Hosseini at the same time.  What I lose in Follet I try to recapture in Hosseini frankly, at conscience level, if you know what I mean.

But how can Follet understand all this?  After all he is British and through out the two world wars the British used India and other colonies to plunder and finance their own goals.  My rage at reading the book is since manifold.  What a fool the British have made of us Indians because the book reveals they were preoccupied with both the world wars and needed India to provide them with endless supplies of raw materials and food and resources to fight their own wars in other parts of the world.  Excuse me, but i am used to looking at everything through India prism only.  The massacre at Jalian wallah Bagh in Punjab is something the British are yet to apologize for.  How about returning the Kohinoor diamond to India for the starter.

The story reveals both the world wars had no relevance to most of Asia.  The wars were power struggles between headstrong Europeans and Americans.  The Japanese cannot be blamed because i am from Asia and I support Asian nations because i am for power balance always.  If the US and UK could have colonies,then Japan did not do anything wrong by the same measure.

The British still gave India our independence, sucking us off completely of all our riches and abandoning us finally.  Ken Follet could have tucked in an apology somewhere for the manner India and other colonies were pulled in the world war II for no reason.  One Japanese bomb fell in Madras (today Chennai), my hometown.  Not the kind like Hiroshima or Nagasaki though.

The author has described all events lightly toning down aggressive approach to even Nazi Germany.  But there is an unmistakable glorification of anything and everything British and American in the process.  If Nazis did something openly to Jews, the British were also doing very much the same thing in a benign fashion to all their colonies, that is the point.

Unlike other colonies, we Indians headed by Gandhi were passionate freedom fighters. Our history text books do not elaborate on world wars because we were not connected to them directly in any manner (but India was forced into the wars by the British).  There is a mere outline underlying important events and dates.   But when I think of Simon Commission, Round Table Conference etc etc., that Indian history gives so much importance even today, i realize what kind of fools we have been made into by the British who through all these times never had even an iota of reason to grant India her independence because, India was funding them.  The British openly lived off India and needed us the most through the world wars – we gave them their food, their supplies, their raw materials and even a ready market for their industrial produce to keep their economy going.  How cunning.

So this is what kept running in my mind in the background as I read through the pages.  What was going on in Indian history in the exact period?  Oh no poor old man Gandhi in his loin cloth is headed to London, a sure disaster I know now as if i am on a time machine looking into the past with an inside eye, because it was doomed to be that from the start.  What a waste of everything, what a humiliation.  A total farce when you look at it all now.

The advancement of science and technology in the US and Germany is what takes me most by surprise, even in 1940s.  There is already the radio very much in use, the train services, the telephone, the automobile, the coca cola and the fighter jets and aircraft carriers.    There are celluloid films made in India in 40’s that indicate that technology to some extent reached here and there was the radio but i can imagine how poorly the rest of the world were doing in the same period of time.

Its true, the ancient Egyptians were by far more civilized than anyone else in the world four millenniums earlier when rest of the world was inhabited by cavemen, and the city of Dwarka of Krishna has been found under the Kutch coast in Gujarat in India over 12,000 years back.  We have all had our share in the process of evolution and i think right now its golden period of Caucasians.  This process of evolution is like a wheel i guess and one day after our genepools all go stale, who knows it might be the turn of Africans to lead the world with inventions and discoveries.

Good to know through the book, though, that there were good social democrats in Germany even in Hitler’s time.  Today as we know, united Germany is a strong nation bouncing back with vigour, as if to make up for all the time lost and energies wasted since the two world wars.  From India now, a lot of students prefer to attend German universities these days and are taking to learn the German language.

What is the best punishment we can handover to the British?  Reverse-migrate to Britain, already they are swamped with Asians especially Pakistanis and Bangladeshis.

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