A historical novel by Ken Follett
„Pillars of the Earth? What? How? – It’s already….“
Yes, right, „The Pillars of the Earth“ is not exactly the latest recommendation that is currently storming the book charts. Strictly speaking, it’s more about the 30th anniversary of the first German publication. After the book was first published in English under the title „Pillars of the Earth“ in 1989, it was sold in German translation from 1990.
And nevertheless it is worth a book tip to me:
There are hardly any other historical – novels that so faithfully reflect the everyday life of the people of that time. In addition to the consistently exciting plot, which tells history in a largely believable way and keeps the reader’s curiosity alive with often startling, unexpected twists, the book provides a deep insight into the lives of simple peasants, nobles and the clergy in the early High Middle Ages.
After the publication of „The Pillars of the Earth“, the sector of historical novels developed at an incredible speed, at least in the German-speaking book market. But hardly any of the books even comes close to the quality of this book. Most of the novels are relatively simple plots with a more or less roughly outlined historical background. This is clearly different in „The Pillars of the Earth“.
Several protagonists meet again and again on several levels, sometimes cooperating and exploring the possibilities of their time, or they get entangled in endless feuds and intrigues.
There is, for example, the family of the visionary builder Tom Builder, who roams the region around Kingsbridge starving and looking for work. Or the young, energetic and principled monk Philip, who is elected the new prior of Kingsbridge Abbey and energetically reforms its management. Master builder and prior form a team that strengthens and develops the community in Kingsbridge and, against all odds, ensures prosperity and better living conditions for the local people.
The worst opponents are the careerist Bishop Waleran and the noble family of the Hamleighs – upstarts who are able to conquer an earldom in the turmoil of the ongoing War of Succession in the south of England. Due to temporary alliances of the scheming bishop with the domineering earl family, who are only concerned with their own power and status, the development of Kingsbridge and the county of Shiring always seems to be on the brink.
A third force in the struggle for supremacy in the region are the children of the old, overthrown earl. Aliena, raped by the brutal son of the Hamleigh family and deprived of all means, builds up a wool trade with hard work and far-sighted intelligence, which helps her to new prosperity. With this wealth, she supports her brother Richard, whose goal is to reclaim the earldom from the Hamleighs as a knight.
The novel’s plot is also supported by a love story. Those with historical background knowledge may take some offense. For historians believe that the concept of love marriages, which is quite centrally in focus here, only came into widespread use in Europe in the 20th century. But love affairs and possibly love marriages will already have existed in the Middle Ages; moreover, in the novel it is not necessarily described as typical of the time. It is quite believable to the reader that the self-confident and intelligent Aliena does not seek an arranged union for the purpose of expanding power relationships or increasing wealth. Rather, it is understandable that she opens herself to a person who enriches her life with wisdom, empathy, and imagination.
As already mentioned at the beginning – besides the exciting plot, one of the strengths of the book lies in the extensive, detailed depiction of the living conditions of that time. The author has obviously spared no effort to research them down to the smallest detail and to create a picture for himself, which he spreads out to the reader with such accuracy that one feels directly transported into this world of the High Middle Ages.
Extensive descriptions of the processes on the construction sites help to achieve this, as does the episode of the invention of fulling mills as an example of technological development. Heavy physical labor could be mechanized and income grew. To some readers, these descriptions may seem a bit lengthy, but in my opinion they are precisely the additions that make this book stand out from the plethora of historical novels. It is precisely these that make the work still worth reading thirty years after its initial publication.
In addition, the novel „The Pillars of the Earth“ conveys a little hope. For in the end, the law-abiding, philanthropic Prior Philip and his faithful triumph over the power-mad intrigues of the bishop and the nobility. This does not appear to be simply due to the „happy ending“ – demand for a good novel, but comes across convincingly as a triumph of righteousness and a sense of the common good. Even though the wool merchant, the master builder, and even the priory each achieve prosperity and prestige in their own way through hard work and cooperation, they all simultaneously keep the welfare of their surroundings, their community, in mind. Clever ideas that strengthen the common good bring people closer together and make them more resistant to external grievances such as greedy enviers or even natural disasters.
„The Pillars of the Earth“ – a long-term – book tip!
In this respect – a full recommendation for „The Pillars of the Earth“ by Ken Follett as a historical novel bestseller. This book sets standards! Most beautiful perhaps as evening or accompanying reading for a visit to rural regions in England or Wales or on a „castles and fortresses tour“ in the temporal context of the High Middle Ages (in the novel about 1135 – 1175).
If you want to read the whole Kingsbridge – novel cycle, you should start with the – though less profound – pre-story book „Kingsbridge – The Evening and the Morning„.
Unfortunately, the English edition as eBook is provided with a „hard“ copy protection according to DRM (digital rights management), which requires a registration of the download device with the American company Adobe.
Too bad – I wanted to buy the eBook for learning more English, especially since it costs only a few euros. But a registration with Adobe I do not (no personal data to American companies!). In the German-speaking world, the publishers have fortunately almost universally switched to „soft“ copy protection with watermarks, so that the eBook download is uncomplicated and possible without third parties in epub format.
Reading foreign-language books as e-books on an eReader is a great advantage in that you can download a dictionary and get the translation of individual words in real time by simply marking and clicking.
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