Welcome to the Chunkster Reading Challenge - a challenge which satisfies those readers who like their books fat and chunky!

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Chunky Book Club: Fall of Giants

Today marks the first day of discussion of Ken Follett's novel FALL OF GIANTS - the first book in a projected trilogy.

I am using questions from the Penguin Reading Guide. These questions are to stimulate discussion but are in no way designed to restrict discussion. Please feel free to add your own questions or take the discussion in a different direction.

You may wish to subscribe to the comments on this post to make following the discussion easier.

Because there are twenty prepared questions...it is my intent to post 5 new questions every other day so as not to overwhelm readers! I will add each set of questions to this post, so please check back often!

Feel free to answer any or all of the questions or to add your own in the comments.

Please be aware that there may be "Spoilers" in both questions and answers in this discussion post!

  1. Before reading Fall of Giants, what did you know about World War I? Did you learn anything new upon finishing the novel?

  2. Is there a custom or practice from the book's early twentieth-century time period that you wish existed in our modern day? What would it be, and why do you think it should have a place in today's world?

  3. Is it significant that Fall of Giants begins with the stories of Billy and Ethel Williams? Would the novel have been different if other characters' stories opened the book, such as those of Grigori and Lev Peshkov, or Gus Dewar?

  4. Talk about the historical figures that appear throughout Fall of Giants, such as Woodrow Wilson, King George V, Vladimir Lenin, and others. What did you think of Ken Follett's depiction of them? Do you like seeing notable people such as these come alive in fiction, or do you prefer reading about them in a strictly historical context?

  5. When you first read about Billy Williams in chapter one, did you anticipate how his life would unfurl—for example, that he would end up in running for Parliament? What about other characters: Could you guess what some of them would end up doing or being at the book's end?
Forgive me for the delay...here is the SECOND SET OF QUESTIONS:
  1. Do you enjoy reading epic novels such as this one? What makes them so appealing to readers, in your opinion?

  2. In continuation of the above question, if you had to identify one of the main characters' stories as one that would make a good "stand-alone" novel, which would it be? Why do you think his/her story would make an enjoyable book on its own?

  3. Think about the main characters and what place faith held in their lives. Did religion help or hinder their respective circumstances? What is the overall role of religion in Fall of Giants?

  4. Along these lines, discuss the characters who abandoned their respective faiths. What caused them to walk away from their beliefs? To what end?

  5. Follett depicts life in the early twentieth century through a series of detailed and imagery-rich scenes: the pitch-darkness of a Welsh coal mine, the opulence of an English country manor, the austerity of pre-industrial Russia, the horrors of a French battlefield. Which scenes stood out for you? Why did they make such an impression?

  6. Follett writes from the vantage points of people whose home countries come to the brink of—and finally enter into—a world war. What was it like to read the perspectives of enemies as they embark on battle with one another? Did you find yourself taking sides in any way? Did reading about World War I through fiction cause you to think differently about the conflict?

  7. Follett populates this novel with several strong female characters. Compare/contrast some of them; who was your favorite? Which one did you like least? Apply the same question to the book's male figures. When considering those of different backgrounds and social classes, were any of the male figures similar to one another?
Third Set of Questions:
  1. Discuss Maud and Ethel's relationship. Did you expect them to form such a lasting bond, considering they met as mistress and servant? What did you think of the circumstances surrounding how their friendship ultimately dissolved?

  2. Also contemplate Ethel and Maud's work as women's rights advocates. Were there aspects of each woman's personal life that seemed at odds with her commitment to advancing the cause of women?

  3. Go back to the Aberowen mine explosion in chapter two. Do you think it's a metaphor for any of the novel's themes? How do things change in Aberowen, and elsewhere, after this disaster?

  4. Discuss examples of the disparity between how women and men were treated during this era. Were women regarded better, or worse, than you imagined they'd be? How far have women come since the early 1900s? What inequalities between the sexes still persist today?


  1. What, no one discussing the book? And I thought I was coming late to the discussion... Oh well. Let me start by saying that I enjoyed Fall of Giants very much. It may not be the perfect novel, but I appreciated it under several points of views.
    Mainly, and this is in answer to the above questions, I liked that it put faces on history. I kept thinking that it's much easier to understand WWI through the experiences of people (real or imaginary), than through the usual class history book. So, while I did not learn anything really new, the novel allowed me to understand and feel more directly whatever I learned back in school.
    To question 3, I answer yes: I found the novel to be overly narrated from the British point of view. One example: there's only one point of view for Germany and Austria together, so that Walter has to run back and forth to witness the different developments around his country. A bit stretched.

  2. Thanks for joining the discussion (such as it is!)...I've been remiss in getting questions posted because of a death in the family - but I'm back now...

    I actually just today finished reading the novel and I loved it. I thoroughly enjoy historical fiction because it allows me to understand history through the eyes of characters - just as you said. I think Follett is one of the real geniuses in this genre. I love how he mixes in the real historical characters with his fictional characters.

    In response to question #5 in the first set of questions: I anticipated that Billy would do something great. He showed his amazing character as a young boy - he was brave and had been raised to stand up for what he believed in.

    With regard to Question #2 in the second set of questions...I could see Maud as a stand alone character in a novel of her own. I found her incredibly likeable and I love reading about strong women. I also thought that Ethyl could have carried her own novel.

    With respect to question #5 in the second set of questions - the war scenes really stood out for me. They were done well - graphic and suspenseful.

    More later...


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