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Life, Liberty and Love: review of The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater

April 23, 2018

‘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’.

The Lace Weaver is a compelling drama about two women who find themselves in a fight for life, liberty and love in dangerous times.

From the enthralling opening chapter, the reader is plunged into a story of quiet, everyday lives ravaged by war when they are caught up in the conflict between two of the 20th century’s greatest evils, Stalin’s Red Terror and Hitler’s Third Reich.

With the possibility of war threatening like storm clouds on the horizon, could anyone really afford to make attachments they did not intend to keep? Love was a dangerous game. It was not for the faint-hearted.’

Against the steady beat of the drums of war, acts of courage and goodness, glow. Reading The Lace Weaver is to witness the best and worst of humanity, and you can’t help but wonder if faced with similar circumstances, would you fight or co-operate with brutal occupying forces? We can only hope we will never know the answer.

While men rattle the sabres, Lydia (whose hair falls in ‘glossy waves, the same colour as amber liquor’), and Kati (with eyes that are ‘the crisp yellow-green of windfall apples’) wield a different kind of power, doing whatever is necessary to stay alive and to protect loved ones.

At the heart of this sweeping historical is a knitting circle, which becomes a unifying and collaborative force for good: ‘Sometimes a shawl is not just a shawl. It is a voice, a force, a way of remembering…’

The world around them may well be falling apart, but sitting together, talking and sharing confidences while knitting gossamer shawls with intricate patterns, doing what Estonian women have always done, is healing and life affirming for Kati and the others in the circle.

Set mostly in a little-known country in Eastern Europe called Estonia, The Lace Weaver opens in 1941 with the Baltic state occupied by the Russians and facing the threat of invasion by the Germans. As the Red Army becomes increasingly brutal, Estonians are executed or carted away. These scenes are heart-breaking. Kati and her family survive only because their precious farm produce is needed to feed the occupying forces.

Increasingly, fiercely partisan Kati is finding it hard to protect her grandmother’s precious legacy – the knitting of shawls that tell the stories passed down through generations. While Kati faces growing oppression and hunger, another young woman, Lydia, is suffocating in her prison of privilege in Moscow. Yearning for freedom and to escape from the clutches of her cruel guardian uncle, Lydia escapes to Estonia, birthplace of her beloved, late mother.

But she is quickly drawn into the tumult. In the midst of a heaving mob at a train station, where families are being separated, shots are being fired, people are screaming, Lydia and Kati meet for the first time. Whereas Kati is a farm girl whose parents couldn’t afford to send her to university, Lydia has only known comfort and luxury. By now having lost almost everything on the troubled journey there, her late mother’s beautiful Estonian lace shawl is one of her few scant belongings.

Besides their differences, Kati distrusts Lydia from the outset. When events conspire to force the two young women to flee together, they become unlikely companions on a trek to the forest where they seek sanctuary with a bunch of freedom fighters.

Although life there is harsh and dangerous, romance blossoms for each woman. Tenderness and passion is a short-lived interruption to the troubles that erupt anew when the Germans kick the Russians out to become Estonia’s new occupying force. Yet again, innocents suffer. Human life seems worthless. Power is all. (Impossible here, not to be reminded of Syria).

The final tumble of events makes for a heart-pumping, edge-of-your-seat ending. Blood is spilt and there is gut-wrenching loss, until eventually, life, knitting and love goes on, borne by the un-extinguishable spirit of hope.

An impressive and powerful anti-war novel by a very gifted Australian writer, The Lace Weaver was rated one of the most anticipated debuts of 2018 by author Kate Forsyth.

Now we know why.

About the author 

Lauren Chater writes historical fiction with a particular focus on women’s stories. After working in the media sector for many years, she turned her passion for reading and research into a professional pursuit.

In 2014, she was the successful recipient of the Fiona McIntosh Commercial Fiction Scholarship. In addition to writing fiction, Lauren established The Well Read Cookie, a blog which celebrates her love of baking and literature. The Lace Weaver is her first novel, and she is currently working on her second, Gulliver’s Wife. She lives in Sydney with her husband and two children. 

Purchase a copy of The Lace Weaver || read a sample chapter


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