In her fifth novel, award-winning writer Jane Urquhart interweaves the sweeping power of big historical events with small but very moving personal stories. Klara Becker is the granddaughter of a woodcarver in German-settled southern Ontario. She has a love affair with a brooding, silent Irish lad who then goes off to fight, and die, in World War I. Meanwhile her older brother Tilman has literally snapped the ties that would have chained him to the family home, and vanished.
Of course, as in all great romantic epics, the two are destined to meet again. Tilman loses his leg in the war and experiences joyful belonging with an exuberant Italian immigrant family in industrial Hamilton, Ontario, before finally venturing home. Klara remains a spinster in her small town, sewing and working on and off for years on the figure of an abbess carved from wood. The novel culminates in the building of a huge stone monument to Canada's war dead in Vimy, France. Klara and Tilman are both compelled to visit the site of this insanely ambitious artistic obsession of real-life Canadian sculptor Walter Allward; both find that they have a personal struggle to overcome the past and learn to express love. Urquhart grasps her characters from outside and inside as precious few authors manage to do. She is, in her own way, a sculptor who carves a radiant and enduring tale from the elegant material of raw language. --Nigel Hunt
From Publishers Weekly
The bell-llike clarity of its prose initially masks the eloquent pathos of this Canadian bestseller by Urquhart (The Underpainter), which examines WWI through the experiences of siblings Klara Becker, whose first love, Eamon, enlists and never returns, and Tilman Becker, who loses one of his legs in the battle at Vimy Ridge in France. Their largely separate stories along with the evolution of Shoneval, their Ontario farming village form the core of this moving novel and converge in the 1930s, when the sister and brother travel to France to participate in the creation of Walter Allward's Vimy Memorial honoring some 11,000 Canadians missing in action after the Great War. Klara and Tilman share a knowledge of woodcarving, a legacy of their grandfather, a Shoneval pioneer. They end up putting their talents to work in the construction of the memorial and, in the process, rebuild their own damaged lives. The panorama of WWI serves as a powerful backdrop for Klara and Tilman's finely drawn, heartfelt stories and gives Urquhart the canvas on which to depict mature, sophisticated themes. Urquhart charts the collapse of the pastoral ideal an agrarian prewar Canada lured into the conflicts of Europe, losing a generation of young men as a result but her bigger theme is the possibility of redemption, achieved with great struggle, through love and through art. These are familiar premises, but Urquhart's deft, poetic prose and psychological acuity make this a stirring look at one of the signal events of the 20th century.
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