Title: The Lace Weaver
Author: Lauren Chater
A heart-wrenching novel of love, war and resistance set in Estonia in the 1940s, The Lace Weaver tells the story of two very different young women and their struggle to survive in a country caught between two of the greatest evils of the 20th century: Stalin’s Red Army and Hitler’s Third Reich.
The story begins in 1941, when Estonia is under Russian rule and suffering brutality, hunger and mass murders and deportations. Kati and her parents are doing the best they can by keeping their heads down and doing as they are told. Kati quietly rebels by keeping her beloved grandmother’s lace weaving circle alive, with a group of women meeting in secret to make the exquisite lace shawls that Estonia is famous for. The lace patterns become a repeating motif throughout the book, with each section named after one of the designs: Wolf’s Paw, Ring Pattern, Peacock’s Tails, Spider Stitch, Ash Pattern, and so on. I really love this aspect of the book, as the patterns became symbols for what the characters endured.
Meanwhile, in Moscow, another young woman named Lydia is living a life of ease and privilege within the bejewelled cage of the Stalinist elite. However, as she gradually becomes aware of the cruelty of the Russian dictatorship, she longs to escape. Eventually, she and her old nurse Olga escape to Estonia, only to be caught up in that country’s struggle for liberation.
For the oppressed Estonians, the news that Hitler’s forces are marching towards them brings hope and jubilation. It is not long, however, before they realise that they have exchanged one cruel regime for another. And Kati and Lydia are caught in the maelstrom, struggling just to survive.
This is a novel of love and war, heartbreak and hope, and the bonds between women, delicate as lace and yet as unbreakable as steel. Powerful, subtle and beautifully written and composed.