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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater

Title:  The Lace Weaver
Author: Lauren Chater
Publisher: 1st April 2018 by Simon & Schuster
Pages: 400 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre: historical fiction
My Rating: 4 crowns

Each lace shawl begins and ends the same way - with a circle. Everything is connected with a thread as fine as gossamer, each life affected by what has come before it and what will come after.
1941, Estonia. As Stalin's brutal Red Army crushes everything in its path, Katarina and her family survive only because their precious farm produce is needed to feed the occupying forces.
Fiercely partisan, Katarina battles to protect her grandmother's precious legacy - the weaving of gossamer lace shawls stitched with intricate patterns that tell the stories passed down through generations.
While Katarina struggles to survive the daily oppression, another young woman is suffocating in her prison of privilege in Moscow. Yearning for freedom and to discover her beloved mother's Baltic heritage, Lydia escapes to Estonia.
Facing the threat of invasion by Hitler's encroaching Third Reich, Katarina and Lydia and two idealistic young soldiers, insurgents in the battle for their homeland, find themselves in a fight for life, liberty and love.
My Thoughts

‘Every shawl we make will be laced with defiance. Every stitch will carry a message out into the world.’

Set during the Second World War, this is a captivating look at Estonia which found itself caught between, firstly the occupation of Russia, and then later, Germany. I knew very little about the Baltic area during this time in history and found it fascinating - everything from the dual occupation, to the resistance of the ‘forest people’, to the strong influence lace making as part of the culture and heritage had been.

‘The peace I had experienced briefly at Aunt Juddit’s this morning was gone, the threads of it scattered like a shawl unravelling in the wind.’

This is not only a story of survival but of family and friendship. The characters here are totally engaging. Lydia who was half Estonian-half Russian and had connections to  Stalin’s regime (made for some interesting Google research to read of the factual inspiration); to Kati the daughter of an Estonian farmer. These two characters are brought together happy to have shaken off the invading Russians, only to then fall under the Nazi regime and the terrifying labour camps. Infused throughout all this turmoil is the tradition of knitting circles and shawl making amongst the women.

‘...to stay alive and to fulfil the promise I had made my Grandmother; to maintain our culture through the knitting circle, to keep sharing our stories and continue the tradition of making shawls.’

The Lace Weaver is Aussie author Lauren Chater’s debut novel and the writing is something special. Characters and stories are brought to life as the heartache and trauma of this impossible situation is compellingly presented. Lauren skilfully interweaves fact and fiction and leaves you breathless at times.

‘As she read from the book’s pages, Mama’s beautiful language had flowed around me like dust motes in the air, the words settling on my skin.’

I found The Lace Weaver to be beautifully written and presented a fresh take on an otherwise well documented time in history. Stories of WW2 from this part of Europe are rare, especially with many countries being consumed by the USSR.  Such histories then often became hidden, with individual country cultures and traditions erased. This tale shines a bright light in a most enlightening way and I highly recommend reading about it.

‘Who will keep our stories? Who will guard our history until it is safe to tell?’

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

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