The Lace Weaver tells the story of two young women, Lydia and Kati, whose lives are swept up by forces of war and displacement. It is a sweeping tale full of love and tenderness, loss and upheaval.
Kati is a master weaver, the creation of intricate lace shawls is part of her Estonian heritage, the skills having been passed down by her grandmother. Her father is a farmer, and she watches her parents struggle as Russian occupation increasingly takes away their livelihood and freedoms, both materially and culturally.
Lydia’s life is also constrained, living in privilege but isolated from others due to the patronage of her powerful uncle, of whom everyone is afraid.
A twist of fate brings the two women together. Despite WW2 Europe being a topic I’ve always been interested in, there was much to learn in this different angle – the Estonian Forest Brothers and their fight against the Russians, the importance of lacemaking in Estonian culture, and the way the embattled nation traded one oppressor, Russia, for another, Germany.
The author is skillful in using lace weaving as both a reflection of the culture, and as an emotional link between the characters and their ancestors. It is a vehicle of memory, of connection and also a way in which bonds form between people. For example, Kati was close to her grandmother through weaving, but her mother’s inability to weave means she was never as close to her mother. It is a tender motif that brings many parts of the story together.
The parallel love stories are told with gentle poignancy, contrasting with the menace and chaos which is ever present. An undercurrent of danger cleverly pulses beneath the story, and it kept me turning the pages, along with the rising stakes for both Lydia and Kati. The action scenes are visceral, the events often achingly sad.
I highly recommend this wonderful debut and I look forward to reading more from Lauren Chater.