I was made aware of this book when we did WWI for American History Club. There is an amazing amount of good literature about WWII, but not near so many stories about WWI. When I was looking for kids books, I got some suggestions for adult books. This was one of them. I picked it now because I’m trying to round out my Alphabet Reading Challenge for the year. I’m at the phase where I’m picking books off my list that fill holes in the alphabet.
Genre: historical fiction
Length: 985 pages (oh so close to getting that 1000+ tag)
Setting: England, France, Germany, Russia, and the U.S., 1911-1924
Font: Warnock Pro
Summary: We follow several principle characters as their lives interconnect in the run-up to and aftermath of WWI. Billy is a Welsh coal miner. His sister, Ethel, is housekeeper for the local noble family, the Fitzherberts. She gets knocked up by the Earl and moves to London, where she works for women’s right alongside Lady Maud Fitzherbert. Lady Maud falls in love with the German Walter von Ulrich. They marry secretly and are separated by the war. In Russia, we follow Lev and Grigori. Lev emigrates to America, where he hooks up with a Russian gangster and marries her daughter (after knocking her up). Grigori is stuck in Russia, where he eventually gets involved in the Russian Bolshevik revolution. Finally, there’s Gus Dewar, assistant to President Wilson, who’s trying to keep the Americans out of the war. All the men are sent to fight and the world they come back to after WWI ends is much different from what they left at the beginning of the war.
Final thoughts: This was quite an epic story, with everyone turning up in other people’s stories. While the majority of the stories are about men, that felt appropriate since they were the ones fighting We did get two female points of view – upper and lower class, for a change of perspective. I also found myself appreciating all I remembered from The Guns of August as I read about the beginning of WWI. There were many details I remember from the nonfiction book, especially about the German plans and how Russia was able to mess up those plans, even with a poorly provisioned army.
There was so much that was changing in this time period. Even before the war, we saw inklings of worker’s rights and women’s rights becoming more important, and then a big war got thrown in the middle of it all. It was interesting to see how the different countries dealt with the changes. Russia was particularly disheartening. You saw the workers go into the revolution with such high hopes to change society, and I know where they’re going to end up, and it’s not in a good place. I wanted to yell through the pages not to follow Lenin or Trotsky – they’ll take you to bad places!
Even though this book was REALLY long, I’m still going to read the other in the series. Just, maybe next year. I don’t need any more nearly 1000 page books this year.
Title comes from: The story centered on WWI when empires started falling
Reading challenges fulfilled: #79 in my Maybe 100 This Year Challenge, and an F in my Author Reading the Alphabet Challenge
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