Jeffrey Archer is one of the most popular authors alive, with hundreds of millions of copies sold around the world. However, I haven’t had a chance to get my hands on his works until recently. That said, I’d heard high praises for him from my colleagues and friends. Hence, I always had an interest in exploring Archer. I have Archer’s two novels in my collection – Sons of Fortune, and Sins of the Father. And after reading the first one, I cannot wait to get my hands on the second.
Plot Summary of Sons of Fortune
Sons of Fortune was originally published in 2002, by the iconic British publishing house Pan Macmillan. Like most of Archer’s works, the novel turned out to be an international bestseller, with millions of copies sold worldwide.
The central plot revolves mainly around the twin brothers – Nathanial and Peter Cartwright. Peter, however, is separated from the family, as a nanny of a deceased child born on the same day, replaces him with the dead body of the child. And then begins one of the most interesting chronicles spanning generations. Peter grows in a Connecticut elite family, the Davenports, as Andrew Fletcher Davenport, while Nat Cartwright has humble beginnings.
While both the brothers attend different schools and enter student politics, Nat gets a call to join the Vietnam War. He obliges and becomes a national hero, and wins the prestigious Medal of Honor for his actions. Fletcher, on the other hand, gets into Yale, graduates as a criminal defense lawyer marries his childhood love, and subsequently enters mainstream politics. Upon his return to the University of Connecticut, Nat meets his soon-to-be wife, graduates, and becomes a wealthy investment banker.
The brothers’ fate is linked by a common enemy – Ralph Eliot. The arch-nemesis of the brother comes across not only as cruel, cold, and crude but also as flamboyant. Right until the end, Eliot continues to make life difficult for either of the twins. Even his death haunts them, before getting rid of him finally.
Ultimately, the twins finally compete against each other to become the Governor of the Connecticut State. And this is not a spoiler at all!
Journey of a Nation
Sons of Fortune is not just a story about two twins, but it is a journey of the United States. Archer exquisitely documents the transition of the nation, especially from the post-Vietnam War era to the rise of banking capitalism, and much more. Through the plot and characters, Jeffrey Archer presents a couple of crucial events, directly or indirectly, giving the readers an insight into the political and economic situation within the United States in the latter half of the 20th century.
The story also chronicles the life of a successful American kid, right from the school days to graduating from the Ivy League institutions. I personally loved how the career of Fletcher progressed, and it was almost inspirational. Though the storyline is set in the ’70s & ’80s, one can relate to the career choices and aspirations of the twin brothers.
Moreover, the personal lives of the two central characters also tell us a thing or two about the average life in the United States. Nat marries a second-generation Korean immigrant who’s an elite data scientist. On the other hand, Fletcher marries his childhood love, who is talented enough, but also willing to sacrifice her career to support her husband in every way she can.
Then there’s the transitional phase of US Politics from the 20th century to the 21st century. The book showcases the shift of power from the Republicans to the Democrats, with Bill Clinton defeating George H.W. Bush. The dirty games of politics, immoral vilification of the opponents, crafty debates, and hustle till the last minute – everything that you see even today.
One of the key drawing factors of the novel is its rich and deeply explored characters. Not only the central characters, Elliot, Nat & Fletcher, but also their friends, wives, and family. Each character has a totally distinct personality, which gives the reader a lot to ponder upon, study, and understand. In short, the diversity of the characters keeps the reader on their toes right till the end.
Nat & Fletcher
Nat Cartwright comes across as an intense young kid with strong aspirations. He is brave, upright, and willing to be the best in whatever he does. However, he also has a grey side to him. His actions when the fake Julia Kirkbridge plays her dirty game are questionable, though not detestable altogether. This shows that the elder twin is not afraid of taking the controversial route if that’s what it takes for the greater good. Right from his pre-school days,
The younger twin, Fletcher, is equally intense, and even more confident. He is aspirational, yes, but not overly ambitious. His handling of the homicide charges against Mrs. Kristen displayed his democratic or humane side, where he agrees that taking law in one’s own hand to protect one’s self is not a crime. And then there was his handling of the gunman holding young kids in a school as hostages. It establishes the newly elected senator’s high morals.
Jimmy Gates and Tom Russell, Fletcher’s and Nat’s lifetime friends, are two distinct characters playing similar roles. Each of them is instrumental in the success of their friends. While they are no dumb dudes, they certainly are not as talented or magnetic as their pals, who they envy but don’t despise.
Then there are the wives of Annie Fletcher Davenport and Su Ling Nat Cartwright. While Annie is an intense, faithful, and dedicated wife, ready to sacrifice her career to support her husband in every way she can, Su Ling uses her skills and talent to help her man succeed. Both of them, however, are extremely dedicated to their families.
However, the only thing that bothered me was how little the parents of Nat and Fletcher appeared. Maybe that’s a cultural thing, that parents have very little influence on their kids once they grow up. That’s definitely not a thing in the sub-continent, no matter how much we try to follow the west. The only senior character that has a substantial role is Senator Gates, Fletcher’s father-in-law. The Gates Sr is like a political godfather to Fletcher, helping the young man to make his way within the ranks to become the Governor candidate.
One thing that blew me away was how powerful Archer’s storytelling is. I have read a lot of authors, from various countries, but only a few were as good as Lord Archer. His narration is almost a historic document, which not only charms the readers but is also flamboyant enough to keep you hooked throughout. Each chapter, each page is such a treat to read that the 590+ pages fly away.
However, there were a couple of things that I didn’t like. First, the author misses out on key events that the United States was involved in, directly or indirectly. While the Vietnam War has had a certain impact on the country’s politics, there are several other events that have had far more influence in the modern era. The Cold War between the Soviet Union and the United States, for instance, is of greater significance. Likewise, the US involvement in the Soviet-Afghan War, the Korean War, and its clashes with Cuba, all go missing.
Secondly, I absolutely hated the ending, though this is extremely subjective. The novel, from the very first page, till you reach “I think you would have been one hell of a brother to grow up with,” on page 569, is a gem. That’s where I strongly feel, Archer should have broken the nip. Unfortunately, he didn’t. I almost had to drag myself to the last page from thereon. Does that hamper my overall experience? Not at all. But would I love it more without the election results? Heck yeah!
Language is beautiful – not simple enough to put the ‘Tharoorians’ off, and not complex enough to make the newbies sleep. The sheer narrative voice of Archer is so enchanting that you want to skip classes, food, and work to complete in one go. All you need to read this fabulous story is time, coffee, and chocolate if you will.
Sons of Fortune is easily one of the best books that I have read, and I would recommend this book easily to anyone and everyone. I get it why people love the author, and I have nothing but admiration. My next book for review will be the last novel in the Sherlock Holmes series, and I am already looking to add some more Archers to my collection.
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Noman Shaikh is the co-founder and editor-in-chief of Bombay Reads. He grew up in Mumbai, a city he loves more than any other, and currently works as a content consultant. His expertise lies in creating high-quality academic and marketing content in the form of blogs, articles, op-eds, etc. Noman has worked with reputed brands, including Economic Times (through Spiral Media), Coinbase (through MattsenKumar), AdEngage, Della Group, GBIM Technologies, VAP Group, etc. For his published portfolio, click here. Contact Noman on noman@bombayreads for engagement.