Sunday, August 28, 2011

Fall of Giants by Ken Follett ****

I'm a sucker for a good historical fiction novel, and this is one!  It follows 5 families (one Welsh, one Russian, one American, one Brit and one German) from the turn of the century to just after WWI, showing how their stories meet and part while they live in those turbulent times.  Now you know there are going to be a lot of characters when you have to have a list of them in the front of the book, but these are even organized by nationality and sometimes even by job.  And I'm so glad Ken Follett did that, because I'm one of those people that has a hard time remembering who's who. 
It's a big, sweeping book, and Follett is planing of following it with two more just like it, since it says on the front cover that this is book one of The Century Trilogy.  I think it's fascinating to see how war brings very different people together that would never have met and creates a new reality that our ancestors would be rather surprised to learn about (for example:  both of my husband's grandparents never would have met each other without WWII happening).  So I can't wait for the next book, which will undoubtedly deal with WWII and how the same characters and their children experience it. 
Thanks Ken Follett for another great read!

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Paris Wife by Paula McLain ****

I needed a new book to read, something recent that looked good.  I can't remember where I saw this book listed, maybe on the New York Times bestsellers list, but the idea of reading a pseudo-memoir about Hemingway's first wife was intriguing. 

Hadley Richardson was from my hometown, St. Louis, and was considered a spinster at age 28 when she met Ernest Hemingway.  He was 21 and just starting his writing career, not yet the man he would later become.  They fell in love, married, and moved to Paris so Ernest could be where all the great writers of the age were:  Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, and more.  There they lived for several years in what for Hadley was marital bliss, but for Ernest became a tightening noose around his neck. 

I appreciated this book on several different levels, one of which was the character of Hadley herself.  I've seen that many people who've reviewed it thought that Hadley was a wimpy character, but I found her to be quite real.  She was the only person in a circle of very bright stars that wasn't a writer and wasn't trying to be famous in some way.  She was very ordinary, and as a rather ordinary person myself I liked her.  It was as though she were trying very hard to not be eaten alive by the people around her, and somehow she came out the other end intact. 

I would like to read The Sun Also Rises now since Hemingway's life while writing it was the model for this book.  And my husband's favorite Hemingway book, Islands in the Stream, would be good to read also--it has so much to do with Ernest looking back on his life and his wives with regret and longing.  And it's obvious that though she wasn't a flashy flapper, a love-starved socialite, or a petulant  beauty queen, Hadley in many ways was the love of his life and an anchor that he lost and never could find again.