Ken Follett

Edge of Eternity

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Edge of Eternity Summary

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Welsh author Ken Follett’s historical novel Edge of Eternity (2014), the third and final book in his Century Trilogy, follows a generation of families as they grapple with the Cold War and other historic events of the second half of the twentieth century. The book’s characters are scattered across the Western World, living in the United States, the United Kingdom, East Germany, and the Soviet Union. According to Publisher’s Weekly, Edge of Eternity is “the mesmerizing final installment in an exhaustive but rewarding reading experience dense in thematic heft, yet flowing with spicy, expertly paced melodrama, character-rich exploits, familial histrionics, and international intrigue.”

The principal point-of-view character in the United States setting is George Jakes, a young lawyer and Harvard graduate who works for Attorney General Robert Kennedy during John Kennedy’s presidential administration. George is mixed-race; his father is the white US Senator Greg Peshkov and his mother is the African-American actor Jacky Jakes with whom Greg had an affair. From Washington, DC, Jakes experiences the Cuban Missile Crisis and the fallouts from both the JFK assassination and later the assassination of his boss, Robert Kennedy.

Meanwhile, the Soviet Union plotline focuses on Dmitri Dvorkin, a young functionary of the Communist Party who works for Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. He plays a key role in the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, which breaks out after the United States discovers Soviet ballistic missile facilities on the island of Cuba. After days of negotiation, to which Dmitri is a party, Khrushchev agrees to dismantle the missile facilities in return for a promise from President Kennedy to never invade Cuba again as it did during the Bay of Pigs fiasco a year earlier. Throughout the book, Dmitri remains a loyal Communist, although he is vexed by the corrupt and often incompetent Soviet bureaucracy. He admires the relatively progressive politics of Khrushchev and is frustrated when the leader is removed from power and replaced with Leonid Brezhnev in 1964. Dmitri has a sister, Tanya, a journalist struggling to expose problems within the Soviet government.

The East Berlin narrative focuses on Rebecca Hoffman, a schoolteacher and the adopted daughter of Werner Franck and Carla von Ulrich. After the construction of the Berlin Wall in 1961, Rebecca grapples with the repressive nature of living in East Germany. She finally grows fed up with her situation after discovering that her husband, Hans Hoffman, is an agent working for the Stasi secret police, a repressive and brutal intelligence force based in East Berlin. Upon learning this, Rebecca sneaks across the wall with Bernd Held, a coworker at school whom she later marries.

The Germany narrative is also told from the perspectives of Rebecca’s siblings, Walli and Lili Franck. Both musicians, Walli and Lili protest the repression in East Berlin through rock and roll. While Lili sings subversive political songs, the dyslexic Walli’s music is more mainstream, turning him into an international pop star in the band Plum Nellie. When Walli escapes East Berlin, he leaves behind Karolin, his pregnant girlfriend who goes to live with Walli’s parents. Meanwhile, Walli’s bandmate and co-songwriter in Plum Nellie, Dave Williams, happens to be George’s cousin.

Back in the United States, the year is 1964 and the Freedom Summer is in full swing, as volunteers from all over the country travel to Mississippi to help black Americans register to vote. Journalist Jasper Murray travels from his home in Scotland to report on the Freedom Summer and the Civil Rights Movement in general. That same summer, the Gulf of Tonkin incident occurs, a confrontation between North Vietnamese and American ships that draws the United States deeper into the Vietnam War. Later, Jasper is drafted by the US military and sent to fight in Vietnam.

In 1968, Richard Nixon is elected President of the United States. Joining his administration is a young conservative student at UC-Berkeley named Cameron Dewar. Dewar plays an important role in Nixon’s illegal surveillance and espionage tactics, culminating in the 1972 burglary of the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex. Cameron later becomes a CIA agent who in the 1980s is stationed in Poland. There, he is tasked with providing covert assistance to the Polish Solidarity Movement, an important bulwark against the country’s Soviet-backed Communist leadership.

The characters’ global efforts to resist Communism culminate in 1989 when a series of revolutions break out across Europe’s Soviet-backed Eastern Bloc. On November 9, 1989, in the wake of anti-Soviet revolutions in Poland and Hungary, East Germany opens up the Berlin Wall, paving the way for German reunification and the effective dissolution of East Germany’s Communist government.

The book ends with an epilogue set on November 4, 2008, the night of Barack Obama’s election to President of the United States.

Edge of Eternity tells a sweeping story that touches on racism, repression, and revolution.