Book two of Ken Follett’s trilogy was copyrighted in 2012, but as I began reading it this week, it was like an extension of the day’s headlines about killing Jews in Pittsburgh.
“Winter of the World,” the book title, picks up in 1933, as European nationalism brings Adolph Hitler onto the world stage. The rhetoric of the new chancellor, elected by a minority, has inflamed the passions of a third of the population and emboldened thugs who wear brown shirts and attack Jews, liberals and intellectuals and anyone who can be accused of sympathizing with communists. If you are a German citizen and not angrily bullying those who refuse to respect the Nazi Party, you are in peril.
Although loathed by most Germans, he manages to shut down the news media that criticizes his policies, steal powers that the law preserved for parliament, wrest authority that exceeds the constitution, and beat down opposition until his dictatorship is no longer an unthinkable fact.
People who opposed the assault on democratic rule are forced to leave the country or are arrested and sent to prison or executed.
The Jews were merely the first and easy targets. Eventually, it was socially acceptable to support the notion that a pure race of white Christian conservatives was the ideal make-up of a population that would make Germany great again.
All the while, everyday Germans said such tyranny could not happen in their country.
Follet’s book is fiction, of course. The characters are players on a stage he creates to continue his story of world history that began with the first novel in the series, “Fall of Giants,” about how the old world order of rule by aristocrats, kings and queens and the rich families with royal ties to the past would be challenged and changed by events that led to The Great War, the War to End All Wars — or as we call it now, World War I.
In that novel, and again in “Winter of The World,” discontent is ripe fruit ready for the picking by a few men bent on manipulating rival tribes into powers that become tools for their own glory.
But I repeat, this is fiction — historically based fiction, but fiction nonetheless.
If you believe, as I do, that there is often at least as much truth in fiction as there is fiction in truth, Follett’s works can be considered a cautionary entertainment.
Writers have accurately captured the results of human folly. Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring,” a book written in the middle of the last century about the effects of man-made chemicals and bad choices threatening the planet, is selling again.
Tales of man’s inhumanity to man, the oldest plotline in the world, predating written literature, continue to entertain, if not enlighten, us.
But we don’t learn.
On Page A10 last Saturday was a small headline over a 4-inch story about how Mick Mulvaney, appointed by President Trump to destroy any agency or government rule that requires sacrifice of a dollar’s profit to business, is rolling back protections against predatory lenders.
Big finance interests like being able to pick the pockets of working poor to the point that the little guy winds up taking out a new loan to make payments on an earlier loan. To Mulvaney, Trump and their ilk, that’s what makes America great.
I will plod through the nearly 1,000 pages of this novel, and then move on to the third and final in “The Century” trilogy mindful that my parents were born in book one and lived across most of book three, titled “Edge of Eternity.”
I was born in the middle of book two and am still here, as of this moment, to see what happens next. But I know the plotline.