#Book Bingo 2018 is a collaboration challenge I am completing with my favourite blogger, Theresa Smith Writes. How does it work? We have devised our own personalised book bingo card game. Twice a month, on the first and third Saturday of the month, Theresa and I will complete a book review post, outlining our respective bingo card entries. The book bingo card contains a total of 25 squares, which we will complete over the course of the year. To accommodate all the squares, we will be posting additional entries in the months of March and June, this will ensure that we stay on track to complete the book bingo game by December. To keep things interesting for ourselves and those following along with us, the choice of bingo square to be covered will be entirely down to us. We invite you to join us in this fun book related challenge, by linking your bingo card entries in the comments section of this post or by visiting Theresa Smith Writes.
My ninth #Book Bingo 2018 entry is ‘A book with themes of culture’. It is rare these days that I get the chance to read a non review book. The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater was a personal purchase I made recently based on the praise this book has been receiving. What a novel The Lace Weaver proved to be! The opportunity to learn about the Estonian culture and the art of lace weaving was such a memorable experience, it is no wonder I awarded this debut five stars!
A breathtaking debut about love and war, and the battle to save a precious legacy
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.
World II Estonia, a perilous time as the struggle between Hitler’s regime and the Russian Red Army grips a nation is the haunting backdrop of The Lace Weaver. With themes of friendship, love, self sacrifice, survival and the protection of culture forming the lifeblood of this debut novel, no wonder it resonates long after the final page has been turned.
In the year 1941, the Eastern European country of Estonia witnesses the infiltration of the Red Army on all facets of life. For Katarina and her family, survival in this brutal regime is dependent on her family’s thriving farm produce, which is a central source of sustenance for the forces. Despite the evil and oppression that surrounds her, Katarina takes solace in continuing her beloved grandmother’s tradition, knitting lace shawls. These beautiful garments are weaved with great care and embody the stories of the people of Estonia. While Katarina grapples with the hardship that has befallen her and the people who surround her, another young woman is suffering. Lydia is being held captive in Moscow and eventually escapes to discover her family roots in Estonia. It is a dangerous path to tread in such an uncertain time and Lydia soon finds herself embroiled in a desperate situation. It will take a lot of friendship, love and autonomy to rise above the insurgence of the war.
The Lace Weaver has been on my radar, long before it was published. I have been awfully excited about this release, soon after I spied it on Australian author Kate Forsyth’s blog. Kate claimed The Lace Weaver to be one her most anticipated debuts of 2018. My love and connection to The Lace Weaver was a swift one. The first pages instantly pulled me into the rich narrative. Each page seemed to offer as much awe as the previous one. It didn’t take long to develop a full and sustained relationship with the two leads of this engrossing historical tale, Katarina and Lydia.
Historical fiction is my favourite genre and I have preference for fiction based in the Great War and World War II. The Lace Weaver is set during the onslaught of World War II (1941) but it also considers the impact of World War I had on the people of Estonia, the central locale for this book. What struck me most about The Lace Weaver was the originality and authenticity. Ever since I read The Bronze Horseman back in 2008, I have been desperately trying to seek more literature about the eastern side of Europe. The Lace Weaver filled this void and more, offering a historical insight into a part of the world I know virtually nothing about, both now and in the past. I am grateful to Lauren Chater, the author of The Lace Weaver, for providing me with a gentle education of this country, the people that populate the land and their rich cultural traditions.
The extent of Chater’s research cannot be faulted. I actually had to check at the back of the book as I was convinced Chater must be Estonian and The Lace Weaver must be based on oral stories passed down from her family. Although this isn’t the case, Chater did spend a great deal of time in Estonia, talking to the Estonian people and thoroughly researching her rich locale. The level and attention to finer details greatly impressed me. The focus on Estonia is like a breath of fresh air. It is great to see an alternative part of the world and the impact of the World War II on this country aired. This book also allows voices from the past, previously forgotten and repressed, to come to the floor. I found The Lace Weaver to be an excellent example of a women’s history novel. Rarely are we treated to two female lead perspectives of war. The solid presentation and contrast in class between the primary characters, Kati and Lydia was strength in this novel. Chater illuminates this aspect of her story with ease.
A significant proportion of the book is devoted to the entrenched cultural traditions of the Estonian people. Chater’s sense of time and place is flawless. We receive a full insight into general way of life and the simple daily routines of the Estonian population at this point in history. In reading these aspects of the narrative, we begin to form a picture of just how the World War II impacted on the ordinary citizens of this country. The oppression, lack of freedom, food restrictions and sheer brutality often moved me so much I had to stop and gather the strength to read on.
By far though, the standout feature of The Lace Weaver is the lace weaving aspect. The passion, tradition, friendships and family stories to come out of this simple act, passed down from one generation to the other was presented in meticulous detail. More than once I wanted to ask Kati and the other talented lace weavers to create me a lace shawl, encompassing my own family roots. It gave me a greater appreciation for this amazing talent. It was also heartbreaking, especially when the women were prevented from engaging in this area of obvious talent. I cannot imagine how awful if would feel to have your passion and culture suppressed in such a way.
The Lace Weaver is a book that will make you feel, the depth of emotions that are thrashed around at various points in the novel are quite a feat. For a debut novelist, Chater has produced a sophisticated piece of writing. She captures the hardship, deprivation, immense loss, the courage, hope and love that existed in these fraught conditions. The unexpected friendships that flow between the leads and the love stories that follow them through the novel makes for one very involving read. The epilogue, which moves forward in time to 1953, was fitting, hopeful and visibly moving. The ending note of this book added another layer to this excellent piece of writing.
The Lace Weaver uncovers a hidden and silenced history of both a country and set of people, namely women, who were touched immensely by the impact of war. I cannot recommend this novel enough. Based on her first book, Lauren Chater has an illustrious career awaiting her. I can’t wait for more quality historical fiction from this amazing new voice.
The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater was published on April 1st 2018 by Simon and Schuster. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Lace Weaver, Lauren Chater visit here.
The Lace Weaver is book #43 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge