Good Reading : April 2018
shawls were part of the legacy left behind. I sensed there was a story waiting to be told.’ Lace shawls, so fine they can pass through a wedding ring, form a compelling narrative motif, signifying strength combined with fragility and representing the web that binds a group of women forced to witness and endure violence and deprivation. The shawls also provide a link to Estonian heritage and history, with their patterns passed down through generations as a symbol of hope and love. ‘From the moment I read about the tiny Baltic country of Estonia, squeezed between Latvia and the great landmass of Russia, I knew I had to set a story there,’ Lauren says. ‘Further research revealed a rich culture of folklore and fairy tales, and a religion which veered more towards animistic beliefs than Christianity. ‘Apart from my interest in the var ious occupations and the impact they had on Estonia’s citizens, I wanted to explore how the landscape was intrinsically tied to the nation’s sense of identity. The story of the Forest Brothers, who lived and fought in the woods, and that of the anti-Soviet Estonian resistance, hadn’t really been told before in a mainstream setting, so I wanted to bring that out into the open, too.’ In the opening chapters of The Lace Weaver, Katarina has stayed on the family farm to help her parents meet the increasing demands for food for the occupying Russian forces, while her brother Jakob attends university in nearby Tartu. Their neighbour Oskar has been on the run, accused by the Russians of a heinous crime. He arrives at the farm late one night with news of the pending arr ival of German troops, hopeful they will deliver Estonia from the Soviets invaders. In Moscow, Lydia’s life of privilege abruptly ends when her politically powerful uncle discovers her clandestine meetings with a young Jewish man. Lydia flees to Tartu, in search of the man she believes to be her father – the local Partorg, or Communist Party Organiser. After learning the truth about her parentage and witnessing the brutality of the Russian troops, Lydia is on the run again – this time among a group of women and children escaping into the forest and protected by local resistance fighters. ‘Katarina’s was the first voice I heard when I started writing the novel, so I feel a very strong connection to her,’ Lauren says. ‘Like many Estonian women, she has strong opinions, but the Soviet oppressions means she has to be careful about speaking her mind. ‘Lydia is more open about expressing her thoughts and feelings. Her sheltered existence within the Kremlin’s walls and indoctrination into the Communist system means she is initially quite naive about the Baltic occupation. She gradually learns the truth, of course – about her parents, and the terrible injustices inflicted upon the Occupied Territories. ‘It’s hard not to feel empathy for a character who grows so much, spiritually and emotionally. I have a sneaking suspicion that Lydia is my favourite, but don’t tell anyone I said so!’ Lauren says that even before the characters of Katarina and Lydia were fully realised, she knew she wanted to weave the symbolism of lace into the story and explore whether the shawls could be a way for women to express their culture within a hostile, oppressed environment. ‘Estonian shawl-making originated in Haapsalu, a little seaside village on the west coast, and the shawls were extremely popular in the early part of the 20th century, especially with tourists. The Tsar even bought one for his wife, and one was sent to the actress Greta Garbo, with hopes she would wear it,’ she explains. ‘Patterns were passed down by word of mouth, or through “samplers” circulated GOOD READING APRIL 2018 15 COVER STORY Fine Work ‘In times of hardship, women have always come together to share their pain and have found strength in each other's company.'