The Lace Weaver

Written by Lauren Chater
Review by Marina Maxwell

Just as the gossamer threads of Estonian shawls are woven into intricate symbolic patterns, so too is this story of two young women trapped in the turbulence of World War II.

Kati is the farmer’s daughter devoted to partisan fighter Oskar. Both are already witness to the cruelties of Russian domination as individuals are murdered or forcibly rounded up and sent to prison camps. Oskar tries in vain to convince Kati’s family that only by welcoming German occupation will they gain independence.

Lydia is born into privilege yet remains under the control of a domineering uncle in Moscow, while her father is distant in both manner and place. Desperate for freedom, she escapes and seeks to discover why her Estonian mother died the way she did. With the help of Kati’s brother, Jakob, and through unravelling the threads of her mother’s shawl, she finally realises her destiny.

Individually and as a group, all must face the horrors and challenges of being trapped between Russian tyranny on the one hand and that of Nazi Germany on the other. As Kati observes: “It felt as if our country was a child’s boat caught in a riptide. Whichever way the currents turned, that was where we must go.”

The parallel first-person narratives work well in the early chapters, but when Kati and Lydia come together, their respective voices do tend to lose their individuality a little. That doesn’t deter from this being a most rewarding World War II novel. Thoroughly researched and crafted as delicately as the lacework at the heart of the story, it has all the hallmarks of top-notch historical fiction: exciting, romantic, shocking, and thought-provoking. Ultimately it inspires the reader to learn more of this lesser-known history (and perhaps Estonian knitting as well). You simply can’t ask for more.