Review

The Stone Carvers

by Jane Urquhart



In THE STONE CARVERS, author Jane Urquhart weaves a masterfully
constructed tale of love and war, passion and loss, spanning
generations and sweeping the reader from the wilds of 19th century
Canada to the post World War I battlefields of Vimy, France, where
a colossal monument is being raised to honor those Canadians who
fought and died in one of the most decisive battles in the war. It
is at this monument that a brother and sister, recently reunited
after a nearly a lifetime of estrangement, will work side by side,
hoping to put their troubled pasts behind them.

Klara Becker is a 38-year-old spinster, living alone on her
family's small farm in the German-settled town of Shoneval in
southwestern Ontario, Canada. Over the years, Klara has come to
accept and even savor the life of spinsterhood, filling up her days
with tailoring, caring for her small herd of beloved snow-white
cattle, and researching and recording the colorful history of
Shoneval. But Klara has two things most spinsters do not ---
independence and a past. Independence because she has no family to
speak of --- no sick aunts to care for, no nieces or nephews to
look after --- and very deep within her heart, she holds faint
memories of romance. Memories of a young man she loved and lost to
the war --- their brief affair lasting only a season but leaving a
permanent impression on Klara that will guide her future in ways
she could never imagine.

Fainter still are Klara's memories of her older brother, Tilman,
who ran away from home when Klara was just 10-years-old. Always a
wanderer, Tilman would disappear for weeks at a time, following the
patterns of migrating birds and the winding roads and trails of
Ontario. Afraid that he might disappear for good one day, his
mother Helga convinces her unwilling husband Dieter to chain the
12-year-old boy to the woodshed rather than risk losing him.
Horrified, Tilman thrashes against his chains, screaming and
howling, until the morning an exasperated Klara takes pity on him
and sets him free. Tilman runs from the woodshed and the Becker
farm, never once looking back. Thirty years will pass before Klara
lays eyes on him again.

The novel is divided into three distinct and compelling sections
--- Klara's story of love, abandonment, and heartbreak; Tilman's
tale of life on the road and in the war; and, finally, the touching
recounting of their eventual reunion and unlikely journey to the
monument at Vimy. It is in this final third of the novel that
Urquhart's themes of loss, redemption, and forgiveness come fully
into play. After a lifetime of running, Tilman Becker is
emotionally and physically exhausted. Having lost his leg on the
battlefield in France and no longer able to depend on his boyish
charms and good looks for handouts, he reluctantly admits to
himself that he has no other options but to return home. When Klara
sees him for the first time limping up the lane to the house, she
momentarily mistakes him for her lost love, Eamon O'Sullivan, and
is hit full force with the feelings of loss and bereavement that
she had kept buried for so long.

Tilman refuses to talk about his experiences in the war but tells
Klara that he's heard rumors of a great stone monument going up to
honor those Canadian soldiers missing in action. Having been
instructed in the skill of carving by their grandfather, a master
of the craft, Klara immediately suggests that the pair travel to
Vimy to contribute to the effort. Tilman initially refuses but,
after realizing how desperately Klara wants to go, he gives in.
Brother and sister make the trip and begin work on the massive
memorial, each hoping for nothing more than to somehow close the
book on the past that's haunted them for so long so that they can
return home and live out the rest of their lives in peace. But what
they find is much more than simple closure on the past --- among
the ruin and destruction each will find healing and happiness in
unexpected ways.

THE STONE CARVERS is a rich and immensely satisfying story
impressive in both scope and depth. Fans of Sebastian Faulks's
BIRDSONG or Michael Ondaatje's THE ENGLISH PATIENT will find plenty
to admire in Jane Urquhart's writing.

Reviewed by Melissa Morgan on January 23, 2011

The Stone Carvers
by Jane Urquhart

  • Publication Date: May 13, 2002
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 400 pages
  • Publisher: Viking Adult
  • ISBN-10: 0670030449
  • ISBN-13: 9780670030446