I would listen to this again and eagerly await the final instalment in the trilogy. Follett knows history and although his focus on creating left-leaning (but not necessarily Communist) heroes is overdone, he attempts to provide balance and his overall treatment of WWII is fair and frequently keenly insightful and thought provoking. The intertwining of his fictional characters with the portrayal of actual historical players is handled deftly. Although the coincidences are objectively far-fetched, his ability to weave a compelling story with distinctive, complex characters prevents the listener from rolling his or her eyes too often. The true hero of this book is Carla, the young German raised by Social Democratic (Socialist) parents who takes enormous risks and makes great sacrifices in order to counter the Nazi culture permeating her homeland. In yielding to the culture of our post-Christian 21st century, Follett presents this character as a "saintly" atheist, when it would be more likely that a German possessing her radical righteousness and love for humanity would have probably been a devout and authentic Christian.
I'm confused by Follet's need to often graphically detail the early sexual encounters of almost every character, and half way through my listen, I began to wonder if this author might be a bit obsessed with this intimate aspect of our humanity; the sex scenes started to get boring and somehow I can't help but wonder if he was trying desperately to illustrate that there was little difference between today's sexual mores and the sexual behaviour of Western society over 60 years ago. I think he may have strayed a little from the historical evidence in this regard.
I would compare Herman Wouk's "Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance" to this book, by virtue of the intertwining of compelling fictional and historical characters and simply by the similarities in their handling of historical fiction. I would suggest, however, that although Follet matches Wouk in storytelling, Wouk is the greater master of English prose.
John Lee is a superb reader, although at times he reveals a somewhat monotone reading voice. His ability to provide the characters with authentic-sounding native accents is no less than remarkable, easily transitioning from a working-class Welsh speaker to an upper-class English accent, to the vocal depiction of a Southern U.S. soldier with amazing ease. Sometimes men struggle with giving their characterizations of women's voices authenticity, but Lee manages this beautifully. This man is one of the great audiobook actors.
I was pleased to listen to an account of WWII which did not demonize the entire German nation, highlighting the heroic acts of individuals who either overtly (as in the case of the Catholic priest who spoke out against the euthanasia program and was subsequently executed) or covertly worked to limit the powers of the Nazi regime. I was also pleased with Ken Follett's reference to the profound similarities between the oppressive totalitarian natures of both Nazism and Communism. I would recommend this book to anyone who is a 20th century history buff, or even more importantly to someone who needs to know more about WWII, but finds non-fiction boring.
Once again, I would place a caution on this book for younger readers, or for those who desire a great work of historical fiction but who do not feel the need for frequent descriptions of sex acts which may be at first titillating, but which eventually become ridiculous and intrusive by their frequency.
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