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. [Emphasis added]