Set in the first half of the twentieth century, but reaching back to Bavaria in the late nineteenth century, The Stone Carvers weaves together the story of ordinary lives marked by obsession and transformed by art. At the centre of a large cast of characters is Klara Becker, the granddaughter of a master carver, a seamstress haunted by a love affair cut short by the First World War, and by the frequent disappearances of her brother Tilman, afflicted since childhood with wanderlust. From Ontario, they are swept into a colossal venture in Europe years later, as Toronto sculptor Walter Allward’s ambitious plans begin to take shape for a war memorial at Vimy, France. Spanning three decades, and moving from a German-settled village in Ontario to Europe after the Great War, The Stone Carvers follows the paths of immigrants, labourers, and dreamers. Vivid, dark, redemptive, this is novel of great beauty and power.
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.