Have You Read …? Human emotion told in the Middle Ages
“Pillars of the Earth” by Ken Follett
Oprah Winfrey, without question the greatest bookseller of all time, has selected another exemplary title to reside on her extensive Oprah’s Book Club list. Starting with “The Deep End of the Ocean” by Jacquelyn Mitchard in 1996, all of Winfrey’s picks are outstanding literature and, for the most part, filled with a stark look into the dark side of human struggle.
From Tolstoy’s classsic “Anna Karenina” to the Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Road” by Cormac McCarthy, every book still on the list (the poorly chosen “Million Little Pieces” was removed after the controversy regarding its nonfiction status) is above reproach for sheer readability and literary quality.
Ken Follett is one of the contemporary masters of intrigue thrillers. His command of suspense, detail and compelling characters makes his status as a best-selling author of little surprise. From the Nazi espionage tale “Eye of the Needle” to the recent geological terrorist novel “Hammer of Eden,” Follett’s depth and range have provided 18 amazing novels.
In 1989, Follett took a chance by stepping out of his usual 20th-century spy genre and leaping all the way back to England circa 1135 A.D. The resulting “Pillars of the Earth” is an incredibly readable historical fiction concerning the four-decade rebuilding of a cathedral destroyed by fire early in the novel – just one of many intrigues woven into the thrilling story. No stranger to convoluted plot lines, multidimensional characters and attention to historical detail, Follett is able to immerse the reader in the treacherous intricacies of the Middle Ages from the very beginning.
As the political and religious quagmire develops, the reader is treated to a wide range of characters: the compassionate and beleaguered Prior Philip, charged with the monumental task of rebuilding; an idealistic but limited Tom the Builder; a trio of fiercely independent women who shape the course of many lives; not to mention the deplorably corrupt and self-serving Bishop Waleran Bigod.
Through painstaking research, Follett is able to build the suspense with tremendous historical accuracy, bringing the trials and concerns of political upheaval, family crises and even elements such as famine and storms into the story, giving the reader the feeling the characters and events are happening before their very eyes.
One of the most striking effects of “Pillars of the Earth” is Follett’s ability to not only describe the finer points of architecture and construction, but to actually bring it to life in the reader’s mind as well. After reading “Pillars of the Earth,” one finds it difficult to look at architecture without seeing it through the eyes of characters that seem no less real than people we have actually met and spoken with.
Follett has just released “World Without End,” the long-awaited sequel to “Pillars of the Earth.” For those of you just beginning your journey with Follett to England and the 12th century, you can look forward to the saga continuing unbroken into the sequel. For others, the ones who have previously visited the Kingsbridge Priory, a whole new adventure is at hand.
— Michael Stroschein is co-owner and manager of Neighbors Bookstore.
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