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When reality gets scarier than fantasy

I’ve been a huge Ken Follett fan since I was a teenager, and my aunt knows it very well. This is why, as a Christmas gift, she gave me a hardcover copy of Follett’s last novel, Never.

I had read nothing from him since the “Century” trilogy, and to be honest I didn’t even know he had published another one after that. Still, a Ken Follett novel is a Ken Follett novel, and I devoured its 800+ pages in less than ten days.

I couldn’t put it down, despite the sense of anxiety it gave me. Follett said he had the idea about “Never” as he was researching for “The Fall of Giants”, because he noticed that none the European leaders about to start World War One wasn’t really keen on starting a war. He did what every good writer does, which is asking the question: “What if it happened today?”.

I’m sure it’s not the first time that someone wonders about something like that, but Follett made is research and tried to imagine what would it take for the world to slowly get to a point where going back to normal is not an option. Well, it’s always an option, but every leader of the world, even the more reasonable ones, when it comes to the choice between “take a step back” and “don’t show weaknesses” choose the second option. Until the very end…

The book is much less action-packet than the typical Ken Follett novel, but it doesn’t need to be in order to keep the reader turning pages. And, thanks to the fact that I read it in such a complicated moment, it made me think that Follett’s guess isn’t that far from reality, unfortunately.

We are used to study history on books after the events have occurred, and we have no issues remembering the dates a war began or ended. If someone asked us, “What were the events that led Europe into WWI?”, we’d answer “The murder of Franz Ferdinand!” without thinking twice, but I’m sure it’s not so simple to explain. There must be something building up to the moment of the murder, explaining how did the World get to that point of tension and what happened in that month between the death of Franz Ferdinand and the start of WWI.

For some reason we’ve come to think that something like that won’t happen again (I do it, too) because we imagine the start of the world as something big and sudden, something that years of treaties and international cooperation would certainly prevent. But reality is much scarier than that: maybe it was a succession of very small steps leading to the point of no return, something that begins very slowly, and then slips out of control and nobody seems unable to stop it.

Maybe, instead of just studying history on books and regard it as just “the past”, we could use more books like “Never”, because they show us how easy is it to lose the ability to put things in perspective.

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