>My reader Richard sent me a link to an article that finally answered my questions about why academics in this country are so terrified of political engagement and of fighting for their rights:
Universities stand as cowardly, mute and silent accomplices of the corporate state, taking corporate money and doing corporate bidding. And those with a conscience inside the walls of the university understand that tenure and promotion require them to remain silent.
In the first part of this review, I discussed the numerous historical errors that Ken Follett makes in his novel about World War I. This author tortures and murders facts of history with a terrifying abandon. By the end of this very long book, I thought that nothing else could possibly shock me until I encountered a description of “surly Russians” engaging in group sex in broad daylight in the streets of Petrograd. And then engaging in more public sex with children.
However, Follett’s complete disregard for historical facts is not the only problem with this book. His entire understanding of important events in history is extremely limited and often naive. In Fall of Giants, World War I and the two Russian revolutions are a result of backroom deals between inept diplomats and bored society ladies.
”On or about December 1910 human character changed,” Virginia Woolf once said. Since then, volumes have been written on the profound ideological shift that was caused by the advent of Modernity. The unwieldy, otdated empires of the Romanovs, the Habsburgs and the Hohenzollerns could not adapt to these radical transformations and had to plunge into suicidal warfare, social unrest, and revolutions. Follett’s grave intellectual limitations (and what else can be said about someone who relies as much as he does on silly cultural stereotypes?) prevent him from realizing that the events he describes are too important to be addressed in a superficial manner. This writer is, unfortunately, too self-assured and condescending to consult the existing body of scholarship on the events of 1914-1919.
I do not recommend this book to anybody. Not only will you not learn any reliable information about this period in history, you will not even have a good time. If the first part of the book is at least marginally entertaining, the second half of it is excruciatingly boring, long-winded and extremely repetitive.
One of the things that annoys me the most is to hear women say that their husband or partner helps them around the house or with the baby. This way of framing the issue presupposes that housework and child-rearing are a woman’s responsibility and she should be grateful if a man condescends to participate in these activities.
My partner doesn’t help me around the house. He takes care of his responsibilities, as the adult that he is, and I take care of mine.
It might seem like a small thing, but the language we use to discuss certain aspects of our lives ends up shaping the reality we create for ourselves.
If you were one of those people who eagerly awaited the release of Ken Follett’s Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy), you are in for a nasty surprise. This book (which is supposed to be the first in a trilogy) is nothing whatsoever like The Pillars of the Earth and World Without End. Even though those books could teach you absolutely nothing about Medieval history, they were highly entertaining. I read both of them in a couple of days and enjoyed myself immensely.
The annoying aspects of Fall of Giants are many. I have already written about Follett’s complete disregard for facts in his depictions of the Russian Orthodox Church and the history of Russia. He also bases his book on the most tired and silly prejudices about the nations he discusses. All Germans are “orderly”, “well-organized”, punctual, and prissy. All Russians are “surly”, “primitive”, “barbaric”, “corrupt”, violent, alcoholic criminals. All Russian women are, of course, drunken whores. The only marginally acceptable Russian is the character who is obsessed with moving to the US. All Austrians are effete, perverted, weak, hysterically aggressive, unreasonable idiots. The French are weepy and useless fools. The French women are also all whores, but at least they whore around while sober. And, of course, all Jews know and help each other, forming a sort of an international Jewish mafia. All British people are insanely promiscuous (don’t ask.) The culmination of the British promiscuity is reflected in a scene where the sister of an English earl (sic!) gives a hand-job to a German attache in the opera-house behind the backs (literally) of her brother the earl, Lloyd George, and foreign dignitaries. To top it all, there are the saintly Americans who, after torturing themselves over it for hours, decide to send invading troops to Mexico in order to bring peace and democracy to the wayward Mexicans. To the Americans’ huge surprise, Mexicans are not overjoyed about the invasion and fail to be grateful to their caring neighbors to the North.
If you think that the above-mentioned things are enough to put you off the book for good, just wait for the second part of the review where I will tell you why the book is even worse than what you might have imagined based on the first part of the review.
>I can never say no to my readers, so after getting several requests for a review of Ken Follett’s new book Fall of Giants (The Century Trilogy) I started reading it. The book is almost 1000 pages long and I will post a review as soon as I’m done. For now, I wanted to discuss this curious phenomenon that I have been noticing for a while where English-speaking writers fall into an outdated and ridiculous Cold War mentality whenever they write about Russia. I shared a while ago that I feel a deep-seated postcolonial resentment against Russia. Even so, things that Follett writes about that country are completely wrong and often offensive.
Take, for example, Follett’s description of the Russian Orthodox Church. I’m no fan of the ROC. Today, they represent a very conservative and stifling force within Russia. During the Soviet era, Russian Orthodox Church collaborated with the KGB, betraying the confidences of their parishioners. Still, this doesn’t mean that accusing the ROC of every sin under the sun is either reasonable or acceptable. The following passage in the novel is so blatantly wrong that it’s scary:
I went to the church and told the priest we had nowhere to sleep.” Katerina laughed harshly. “I can guess what happened there.” He was surprised. “Can you?” “The priest offered you a bed—his bed. That’s what happened to me.” “Something like that,” Grigori said. “He gave me a few kopeks and sent me to buy hot potatoes. The shop wasn’t where he said, but instead of searching for it I hurried back to the church, because I didn’t like the look of him. Sure enough, when I went into the vestry he was taking Lev’s trousers down.” She nodded. “Priests have been doing that sort of thing to me since I was twelve.” Grigori was shocked. He had assumed that that particular priest was uniquely evil. Katerina obviously believed that depravity was the norm. “Are they all like that?” he said angrily. “Most of them, in my experience.”
Of course, there are freaks and criminals everywhere, but this blanket accusation of mass pedophilia amongst the priests of the ROC is not sustained by any kind of historic evidence. The priests of the Russian Orthodox Church are not only allowed to marry, they are required to do so. This suggestion that the ROC priests molest their parishioners’ children en masse is simply wrong.
Follett also states that the ROC priests massively collaborated with the secret police during the tsarist regime. As I said, such collaboration with the secret police did, in fact, take place. However, it happened during a completely different time period and under completely different circumstances. I’d never even heard of any suggestion that the priests of the Russian Empire collectively betrayed secrets told to them in confession to the tsar’s secret police. This is a figment of Follett’s unhealthy imagination.
This tendency to collapse historic periods in Russia into one huge mess is evident in many other aspects of Follett’s novel. He doesn’t seem to realize that serfdom (the Russian equivalent of slavery) was abolished in 1861. The nobles who owned peasants before serfdom was abolished did, indeed, torture, maim and kill their serfs almost indiscriminately and sometimes with no punishment. That, however, became impossible after 1861. At the turn of the XX century, the relationship between the nobles and the peasants, while still problematic, was in no way similar to the way it was in the pre-1861 era.
Another facet of Follett’s annoying Cold War mentality is his tendency to present all Russians as heartless, vile jerks. There is a scene (that takes place in 1914) when a police officer assaults and tries to rape a young woman in the streets of St. Petersburg. The narrator makes a very weird statement about how “no Russian would address a peasant . . . courteously.” This is, of course, ridiculously wrong. There always were many people in Russia who would address anybody in a courteous way. Suggesting otherwise, is simply offensive.
Thankfully, the young woman who is assaulted by the police officer is saved by a character whose kindness, helpfullness and charitability turn him into some kind of a Jesus-like figure. So who is this Christ-like character who roams the streets of St. Petersburg saving damsels in distress and offering his assistance to anybody in need of it? Who is this Savior of the poor and Redeemer of the downtrodden? The answer is obvious. He is an American from Buffalo and against the background of the vile, abusive, nasty Russians, he offers an example of what a good human being looks like.
So if you thought the Cold War is over, read Follett’s book and think again.