Homeland by John Jakes Warner $102 FANCY doing a degree in modern history? Or would you rather sit on the beach with a big, fat novel? If John Jakes has his way, you will be able to do the first by doing the second. Jakes, author of several best-selling sagas, the most famous being North and South, has embarked upon a history of the world during the 20th century. And he's not going to skim over it, oh no. Homeland, the first in a series of novels which will span the 100-year period in which we live, is 1,152 pages. And how much of the 20th century does he span in it - 10 years, 20 years? None at all. This whopper of a novel is merely the prologue. It spans 1891 to 1900 and sets the scene for the century-long family saga that follows. I like a man who thinks big. So, are you a person who gets deep into a story and wishes it would never come to a close? Then Jakes is for you. His stories never end. There is always another page to turn, and if there isn't, there is another whole volume to embark upon. He has already written a series of eight novels about a family called Kent. Then there was the trilogy North and South. The Kent family saga ended in the year 1891, so his books are not just recording centuries, but spanning them. Homeland is a pot-boiling saga but Jakes writes with feeling, and so he should. This story, about a young German immigrant coming to terms with America, is clearly inspired by his own family's story. Jakes' grandfather arrived in America in 1870, so he himself is a product of a real-life Germano-American family saga. A destitute 13-year-old Berlin boy called Pauli Kroner, travels steerage on a ship to America to live with his uncle. He has a nightmare journey full of strange characters and hardships, and then arrives in Chicago, where he becomes Paul Crown. That's the first 130 pages. The other 1,000 deal with the next 10 years of Paul's life and relationships. He fights with his strict uncle, schemes with his wayward cousin, and goes into business with various entertaining characters along the route. But is it history? It's not a school textbook but Jakes has done his homework and gone out of his way to link his characters with major events in American history. He deals with the battle between the unions and the bosses. He looks at the arrival of cinematography and the growth of feminism. Jakes paces himself well for such a long story and there are even moments when you feel he has skipped over something rather lightly - a rare complaint in a book this length. For readers who persevere to the end, there is even some sheet music printed - a piece of authentic-sounding ragtime composed by a modern expert and slipped into the book under the byline of one of the characters in the story. Homeland is neither a true recreation of history nor is it literature. It is light fiction and a pleasant way of passing a few hours. Well, let's be honest, weeks.