Cover Image: The Lace Weaver

The Lace Weaver

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Member Reviews

I really wanted to love this book, as I am a big fan of historical fiction set during WWII and thought that the  Estonian history would be fascinating. In fact, this was the one part I really enjoyed, as I had been unaware of the complexity of the political situation the Estonian people found themselves in during this time period, and it prompted me to read up on it a bit more to gain a deeper understanding. However, I really struggled to connect to any of the characters - both Kati and Lydia had the makings of interesting women, but I felt that they remained somewhat remote and distant for me, their decisions often questionable and the plot predictable. I agree with other reviewers who said that this would make a better YA read, lacking the depth and complexity I look for in my female characters in order to keep me interested. Despite feeling intrigued by certain aspects of the story, I found I floundered, ending up putting the book down many times in the hope of being able to reconnect at a later time, which did not eventuate. I concede that this just was not the right type of story for me at this time.
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It’s 1941, Estonia. A terrible time for the people born to the land who are now brutally controlled by Stalin’s soldiers. The rules that govern how they must live are mounting, and the last straw is when Katarina’s family have yet another increase imposed upon them and their small farm. The sheep Katarina must care for is her one joy – not for their company, but for the yarn they produce, with which she knits as her grandmother taught her. Her stitches are careful and the patterns have a long legacy of being passed down through the generations, and now there won’t even be any meagre bits of yarn left over for her precious shawls, and the last link to her beloved grandmother who’s now dead.

Things aren’t any better for Lydia, in Moscow. She finally escapes her uncle’s rule and goes on the run, hoping to find her father and her ties to Estonia, however it’s not exactly a pleasant place to run to. And what anyone ever knows about their family history isn’t always true. 

As someone who didn’t learn history in school (something I’ll always be annoyed about), I learn now through historical fiction and I’ll forever be grateful to those who research to these lengths. In this case the author travelled to Estonia and spoke extensively to the people there, and it shows in her writing. The way the time and the place is captured, along with the raw feeling of what they’ve had to experienced is engaging and heartfelt. 

Additionally, I connected with this book through the strong thread of knitting, which is important to Katarina, and important to me as one of my most loved hobbies. I don’t think my knitting will ever rival Katarina’s (and power to her for preferring lace – takes so much longer to create with as it creates such tiny stitches), but I loved how vital it was to her ability to cope with the horrors they were experiencing.

This isn’t a joyful book to read – how can such a terrible time be easy – but it is a valuable book to read. It’s especially good to see that this has come from an Australian author. I highly recommend this book for its writing style, and how it captures each and every character so well. With dignity, understanding, and courage.
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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. 

‘ 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 skillfully 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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Book blurb...
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.

My thoughts…

I was drawn to this story by the time period, the setting, the title and the fact everyone was talking about it. And, wow! It so lived up to the hype.  

What an amazing debut novel and by an Australian author. I am in awe of the talent in this country. This is one story worthy of a world-wide audience. There is something to learn and a lot to love about The Lace Weaver. 

The author has woven an evocative and soul-searching plot and the shawl motif woven throughout a story that explores love, family and friendship and the tragedy of war, is both clever and beautifully done. 
I had such a strong connection to every character and felt their pride and their heartache.

A must read that goes to the top of my list for 2018. Well done Lauren Chater, I look forward to your next story.
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I finished reading this book while sitting on a commuter train trying to hide my tears from fellow passengers. To create such beauty out of such horror is a rare skill, and one that debut author, Lauren Chater, possesses in spades.

At its heart, The Lace Weaver is a story about preserving the culture of women in the midst of war. Set in World War II, there’s a whole war going on across Europe but we experience the war only through the eyes of a dozen women – part of a lace knitting circle – in Tartu, a small town in Estonia.

I feel like women’s history – particularly of their war experience – is being brought to life more and more through wonderful novels like this.

I love the way childbirth and childrearing take centre stage and in such a realistic way. There is no heroic pregnant woman recovering quickly to take up arms. There is blood flow to be staunched in the days following the birth, and a baby – Leelo – who interrupts conversations with her needs and must be cared for despite being surrounded by battling armies.

Most powerfully, I had the strong feeling that this is not just a story about a war that was fought more than 70 years ago. This is now. This is the Rohingya. This is Syria. When we speak of refugees, these are their stories.

As the narrator tells us, The Lace Weaver is about ‘the women who did not have a voice’. This passage still sends shivers up my spine:

"Half her face was gone, blown away by the grenade she must have detonated to kill the Russian attackers… I rubbed the ashes on the skin at my wrists and the back of my hands. I will not forget you, I promised them… All the people who had shown us kindness this past week and shared our meals and our stories. The women who did not have a voice, whose lives and heritage had been ripped away."
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The Lace Weaver is a beautifully told story of love and loss in occupied Estonia during WW2, and it had me enthralled right from the very start.

It was nice to get into something other than the light fluffy romance - that I absolutely adore - and dig my nails into something like this story. I have read a few stories set in WW2 lately, and it is refreshing to come across a book as unique as The Lace Weaver.

Kati and Lydia's lives are so different, but also so similar. Their stories are seamlessly interwoven, just like the beautiful shawls that are part of the Estonian culture. I googled them, I want one!

Ms Chater has written a beautiful story of love, loss, bravery and strength, and I really am looking forward to what she brings us in the future.
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It was 1941 and Estonia was in the grip of Russian rule – brutal, cruel and without heart, the Red Army killed, deported and demoralized each and every member of the community who wouldn’t be of any use to them. Kati and her parents were cautiously optimistic as their farm had been approved because of the produce the Russians would take to feed themselves. Kati was also keeping her beloved grandmother’s legacy of the weaving of fine lace shawls – the knitting circle was kept going under Kati’s guidance now her grandmother had passed. 

In Moscow Lydia lived with her oppressive and cruel uncle – until the day she had had enough of the beatings and humiliation. She and her housemaid, good friend Olga, escaped to Lydia’s home land, hoping to find her father and learn more of Estonia where her mother was from. But the shock she was greeted with almost knocked her from her feet – her life had been nothing but a lie…

When the Germans drove the Russians from Estonia, the citizens thought they were safe – no longer oppressed. But were they exchanging one cruel force for another? Would Kati and Lydia ever know peace? And would they know safety, freedom and love in a future that was so uncertain?

The Lace Weaver is Aussie author Lauren Chater’s debut novel, and wow! What a debut! Heartbreaking and poignant; but it was the story of the lace weaving, the delicate scarves that, to be perfect, should thread through the golden band of a wedding ring. The weaving of the fine lace shawls had been passed down over generations – the stories were told in the delicate weave. I have no hesitation in recommending The Lace Weaver to all lovers of historical fiction.

With thanks to Simon & Schuster AU and NetGalley for my uncorrected proof ARC to read and review.
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I did not enjoy this book as much as I thought I I found the subject matter to be very difficult to read about.  There was history that I was not familiar with, and was quite shocked at the suffering of the local population.  The copy of the book on the kindle was difficult to navigate without chapters.  I could not work out how Kati and Lydia were related and think they shared a grandmother.  
It was very interesting to read about Estonia, its history, customs and people.  The chapters titled with the different patterns worked well and enjoyed reading about the traditional crafting of the shawls.   This is a very well written book, and I enjoyed the style of writing, but just too much tragedy for me.  It was a 3.5 star read for me.
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This review will appear at the link below and on Goodreads on 26 March 2018.

In brief ★★★★

In this moving, haunting debut, Chater recounts the entwined lives of two young women in Soviet-occupied Estonia; you can't help but find your heart in your throat as they fight for survival in an atmosphere of fear and oppression. The writing has its weaknesses - at times the research feels heavy-handed, and the descriptions often state rather than evoke emotions - but I was so invested in the characters and the landscape is beautifully depicted. A solid first novel from an author with great promise.

In depth

Plot: The Lace Weaver revolves around the lives of Katarina (Kati), an Estonian woman charged by her grandmother to keep the lace knitting circle alive after her death, and Lydia, a Russian controlled by her domineering uncle in Moscow in the 1940s. As the Soviet army tightens its grip on Kati's town, and as Lydia's uncle becomes too much to bear, their lives are thrown together amid tragedy and fear as they try to survive. Chater does a great job at evoking the fear and tension of an occupied town - the uncertainty, lack of information, and constant threat of violence and terror pervade the story. The plot is one of this novel's strengths - while some of the twists were predictable, it weaves and turns in plausible but heart-stopping ways. 

Characters: Kati is a girl slowly losing her innocence, drawn from an idyllic childhood and thrown into life-threatening situations, where she is forced to make difficult choices. Lydia's story has its own tenor, but parallels Kati's in many ways - she, too, experiences a loss of innocence in stages, but finds the courage to take her fate into her own hands. Both women are easy to like, have strong moral compasses and are inordinately brave. Indeed, even the novel's secondary characters often reveal more courage than their work-a-day lives would otherwise warrant - Olga (Lydia's companion) and Etti (Kati's cousin) particularly display this trait, adding a rich vein of strong second-tier voices to the story. The two main male characters, Kati's brother Jakob and her childhood friend Oskar, experience the war differently (certainly with more agency than the women), but also seem to bear its impact more harshly.

Themes: I was surprised to find myself considering this as a feminist tale, but in many ways it is - so many of the women show extraordinary courage and endure unbearable hardship, and these examples are celebrated, treasured and mourned in turn. The collective power of these women is also wonderfully present throughout. The importance of retaining cultural identity is another constant theme as the Estonian women continue to knit, despite their requirement to abandon their language, music and traditions. Family, love, loss, grief and healing are all within the pages too.

Writing: Chater has some elegant turns of phrase, but falls prey to a few traps that detract from the story. Particularly in the early chapters, she is heavy-handed on the research, telling in direct narration the state of Estonia's occupation, rather than revealing it subtly through what her characters witness. Likewise, many of her sentences simply state Kati or Lydia's emotional experience, rather than working to show them, which jars against her lyrical descriptions of the landscape and people. I also found the narrative voice distant, almost as if it were in translation, with a formality that kept me at a remove from the characters - while I understand this is a way to evoke a different language and era, it didn't totally work for me. I'm keen to see how her writing evolves with the next project.

Recommended if you liked: The Beast's Garden

I received an advanced e-book copy of The Lace Weaver from Simon & Schuster (Aus) via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.
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Thanks Simon & Schuster (Australia) and netgalley for this ARC.

A young girl who can't forget her grandmother, pain of occupation, and so much more. This novel is a epic.
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‘Sometimes a shawl is not just a shawl.’

In 1941, Estonia is being crushed by the Soviet Army. Katarina and her family have survived because the produce their farm produces is needed by the Soviets.  The women have been able to save enough wool to continue knitting shawls.  These shawls are intricate pieces of work.  They are fine enough to pass through a gold wedding ring, knitted in intricate patterns passed down through the generations.  

At the same time, in Moscow, Lydia prepares to escape to Estonia in search of her mother’s heritage. Her mother is dead, and Lydia has only two things that belonged to her: an old lace shawl and a tattered book.

This novel is about so many aspects of life, including love, tradition, tragedy and war. Ms Chater depicts the struggles of the Estonians as they first endure occupation by the Soviets and then by the Germans.  Partisans, surviving in the forest, battle for their homeland. There is danger everywhere.  Will Lydia and Katarina, and their companions survive?

‘Safe.  There was no meaning in that word.  It was an empty promise.’

I won’t write more about the story (I’m trying hard to avoid any spoilers).  I liked the way in which Ms Chater wrote her story around the successive invasions of Estonia during World War II.  The history supports the fiction without overpowering it.  I could easily envisage the women knitting together, sharing their knowledge, unpicking and then reknitting the wool when no new wool was available. There’s a strength here, in sharing this tradition, a continuity in common purpose.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and Simon & Schuster (Australia) for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith
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