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.
I haven’t read historical fiction for what felt like forever, and The Lace Weaver sounded like the perfect way to get back into the genre. World War Two is my favourite time period to explore and I was drawn into this story by the promise of something I’d never even heard about, let alone read in fiction. I was rewarded with a beautiful, touching tale among the best historical fiction I’ve found.
The world Kati and Lydia live in is ferocious. Kati and her family are treading softly in the Soviet occupation of Estonia. Their culture is being eroded, as is their freedom. Any hint of independence is met with fierce brutality. Although Lydia from the outside Lydia seems safe and cared for within the heights of Soviet society, she walks a dangerous line. She is Stalin’s niece, and understands his anger can be explosive and unpredictable. After a particularly aggressive incident, Lydia makes her escape and sets her life on a new path.
Estonian culture is a strong theme throughout the novel and I loved learning about the history of lace weaving and its importance within the culture. It’s amazing to think for generations this craft was handed down from mother to daughter, with the same care and love it takes to turn fine threads into a delicate shawl. The depth of research in The Lace Weaver is evident, but never feels stifling. I would love to learn more about Estonia’s history now, as I can only imagine how hard it is for a country which has been used as a pawn by so many others to retain its independent culture.
The Lace Weaver was beautifully written and I was immediately drawn into Kati and Lydia’s stories. The pacing felt spot on. I was surprised by how invested I was and how fast I read the book, as sometimes I struggle to get into historical fiction when there’s too much emphasis on detail. The elements in this all fell into place though and I was swept along. As with every war story, The Lace Weaver was an emotional read, but above all it was heartfelt. Chater has woven the words together with the same love and tenderness of an Estonian shawl, bringing to life Kati and Lydia’s stories and shedding light on a traumatic time hidden in the folds of history.
If you enjoy historical fiction, I’ve no doubt you’ll love The Lace Weaver. Emotional and captivating, it’s hard not to get caught up in the stories of two young women fighting for their lives. Chater’s writing is brilliant and I already can’t wait to read her next novel.
Thank you to Simon & Schuster for providing a copy of the book for review.