Thursday, July 26, 2007


I bought this book for 10 bucks in a garage sale (lucky me!) and didn't expect that it would blow me away. Short of 1000 pages, I didn’t plan on reading through but was hooked from the first page. If you want to travel back in time to pre-middle age Europe (circa 1127--) and watch the hanging of a man amid a rowdy, bloodthirsty mob in an English marketplace, read the prologue. If you have a fascination with Gothic or French Cathedrals and would like an omniscient experience of the medieval era at the time they were being built—then read this book.

In the outer echelon of the storyline are the endlessly plotting and feuding kings, queens, lords and archbishops. At the heart of the story however, the prime movers belong to the class of the common man. It is how the common man triumphed against forces far too powerful than himself/ herself that makes this novel unforgettable and utterly compelling. It is not only about the building of the largest Cathedral in the world during that time—but the realization that then as now—although the life of the ordinary man teeters upon the political and social framework of his time, his destiny and success largely depends upon him alone. (It is startling to note too that then as now, the age-old tactics of wheeling and dealing in politics and matters of Church and State almost never change.)

It should have been typical with its usual, universal human themes of good and evil, love and hate, betrayal and trust etc—but as you go along reading, it soon consumes all your attention and you realize that this is a gem of a book. By some unknown force (that can be credited to the author’s superbly detailed imagination) another milieu begins to surround you and you become lost in it. You turn into a “mini-omnipotent” who witnesses each character’s life as it unfolds and each suspenseful, conflict-ridden event as it unravels. This is the only book by Ken Follet I’ve read so far but I believe he belongs to a very small group of exceptional authors who could portray their characters almost as living persons. You could feel their fear, insecurities, desperation and hunger pangs, even. Heck, you even know that they snore in their sleep. His characters live on in the hearts of their readers long after they’ve put the book down.

I read some of the reviews on the internet and was shocked to find out that this novel actually has a cult following. According to the author himself, this is his most popular and most successful book ever. Discussion threads on this book are still active and thriving, to think it was written way back in 1989. Some say they’ve read the book two, three, or five times. They debate about the characters as if they were real people. A long-awaited sequel is coming out this October, no longer about cathedrals but about the Great Plague/ Black Death. And I certainly can’t wait…

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