In A Good Natured Bavarian Priest, Is Sent By God And Mad King Ludwig To The Wilds Of North America Soon The Backwoods Are Transformed Into A Parish And The Settlers Into A Congregation, And Joseph Becker, A Woodcarver, Meets His Future Wife Several Decades Later, Joseph Becker Teaches His Astounding Carving Skills To His Grandchildren One Of Them, Klara, Shows Exceptional Talent And Has A Surfeit Of What The Local Nuns Call A Fondness For Men S Work Untamed, She Falls In Love With An Irish Boy, Eamon O Sullivan, Only To Have Him Leave To Fight In The Great War SPOILERS this book is written quite beautifully at first, i thought i had died and gone to heaven after the first night of reading i checked jane urquhart s books and saw there were many i felt saved and still do.however, i liked the book better when it was all immigrants, wood carvers and large churches in the middle of nowhere i could have read about that for weeks weeks of a priest s waiting for a bell to be delivered weeks of harsh winters on the frontier weeks of breweries, processions, and chisels it could have gone on forever then it all became a very long love story, and if you like love stories, this is for you me, love stories are like, meh yeah okay i got it, this person s skin is beautiful and this other person s lips are full mostly, i couldn t and can t see a way that this love story is different from other loves stories, and that this character, this potentially fabulous, feminist spinster, is a fully rounded woman existing outside her love story or stories i know she s meant to be, but i can t see it.sometimes love stories flatten everything they shine a too bright light on characters, and the characters differences, quirks, and neuroses their uniqueness get lost these are the love stories i don t care for. In Wood and StoneFor almost the first half of this book by Canadian author Jane Urquhart, I was thinking that it was one of the most entrancing novels I had read in a long time Now having finished it, I still consider it a very good one, though it could not quite sustain the miraculous balance of its opening This tells how Father Archangel Gstir, a 19th century Bavarian priest, comes to a small German logging settlement in the forests of Ontario and establishes a church, adorned by the wood carvings of one of the men he meets there, Joseph Becker Moving ahead to the inter war years, we see the small village, Shoneval, with the church still standing, a convent by its side, and Becker s granddaughter Klara an eccentric spinster in her late thirties living on a farm at the edge of town The short chapters jump around in time though always with perfect clarity throughout this 75 year span, piecing together Klara s story how she learned wood carving from her grandfather and tailoring from her grandmother, how her brother Tilman ran away from home, and how she fell in love, only to see her lover also leave home at the outbreak of war The characters are rich, the emotions are strong, and the shifts in time give the story enormous scope, yet it remains rooted in that one small part of the Canadian landscape So much power in such containment it is a remarkable achievement.But the other two parts of the novel take us away from Shoneval The second follows Tilman, Klara s runaway brother Sensitive but claustrophobic, he wanders all over Canada as a hobo before falling in with a family of stone masons and learning something of that trade The third part is set in Picardy, where the great Canadian war memorial at Vimy Ridge is being built to the design of the sculptor Walter Allward There, amid the work of executing the sculptures and engraving the names of the fallen, the various strands from earlier in the novel are pulled together, enabling the characters to reach their own kind of completion.Several times, I was reminded of David Malouf s Fly Away Peter, another marvelous novel that starts in a small corner of the British Empire in his case Australia and moves to Europe in each case, the sense of place is an essential prelude to the wasteland of the battlefields But The Stone Carvers is unusual in skipping the war scenes completely and returning to France over a decade later The elegiac feeling that this creates is unique, but it comes with a loss of immediacy It may very well be, however, that the novel works differently for Canadian readers, who would be able to follow Tilman s wanderings with understanding, and for whom the Vimy memorial is a national icon The perfect photograph on the cover of the Penguin edition captures the mood of the book beautifully, but I strongly advise readers to Google Vimy to get a fuller sense of the visionary scale of this remarkable monument, which was almost begging to have a novel written about it. Klara Becker had decided to live like a spinster Although still young, she doesn t expect any from life tending the animals on her inherited farm, sewing clothes for the villagers to earn a little extra money, and burying the memories of love and loss, until Klara is unquestionably Jane Urquhart s heroine in this wonderfully rich and absorbing novel about deep emotions, drive and determination Set in the nineteen thirties, against the continuing aftermath of the most devastating historical event of the early twentieth century, World War I, the author, by concentrating on intimate portraits of her protagonists, brings to life the personal challenges ordinary people faced during these difficult times.The novel is structured into three distinct sections, focusing in turn on Klara, her brother Tilman and the construction of the Canadian War Memorial in Vimy, northern France Klara s character comes to life primarily through her own observations and inner reflections The depth of her emotional being that stands in sharp contrast to her external spinster persona, is exquisitely evoked in Urquhart s lyrical language The following quote gives a taste of it When one embraces a moment of rapture from the past, either by trying to reclaim it or by refusing to let it go, how can its brightness not tarnish, turn grey with longing and sorrow, until the wild spell of the remembered interlude is lost altogether and the memory of sadness claims its rightful place in the mind In this section, the narrative moves easily between the thirties and the late eighteen eighties when Klara s grandfather, master woodcarver Joseph Becker, immigrated from Bavaria to southwestern Ontario in search for a new life He had settled in the village of Shonegal where he found work with Father Gstir s ambitious church project for his small Catholic German congregation Shoneval remained the centre of Klara s world wood carving the craft to be passed on through the generations Tilman, Klara s older brother, less interested in wood carving than in following the migrating birds, leaves home at a young age Klara, on the other hand, quietly imitated her grandfather until she was ready to embark on her own carving project Urquhart draws on the close interaction between her heroine and her work in progress the statue of an abbess to reveal the different emotional stages Klara experienced Joseph could describe the changes he saw in the abbess s face, yet only guessing the source for his granddaughter s inner upheavals.The third section of the novel draws the different threads of the story together and moves it to a different, yet intensely compelling level The author provides an almost intimate account of the Canadian Vimy Memorial and the last stages of the work in progress, personalizing the direct involvement of its architect, Canadian Walter Allward and of the many skilled carvers implementing his dream Her description of the enormous Monument, built on the actual battle field, and erected in memory of the many thousands of Canadian soldiers who perished in this decisive battle, leaves no doubt as to its impact on anybody seeing it Urquhart s lyrical language evokes the eerie atmosphere that surrounds the carvers working high up on fragile platforms on either of the white limestone pylons that form the centre of the monument The passages describing the intricate work of stone carvers whether swinging on ropes high up or working on engraving the thousands of names of the missing are some of the most memorable of the novel The author imagines the stone carvers daily existence carving from dawn to dusk living and breathing the atmosphere of the land, still saturated with the evidence of the war For some, like for Klara and Tilman, the work is a release from the past, a new beginning that is grounded in forgiveness, closure and redemption Not surprisingly, Urquhart, asked about what the novel was about, responded it is about the redemptive nature of art Yes, indeed.By bringing the different threads of the novel together around the Vimy memorial, Urquhart also achieves an admirable harmonization between the intimately imagined lives of her characters and the broader historical reality Shonegal, for example, is based on the town of Formosa, the actual Father Gstir built the enormous church up on the hill as described in the novel The imposing Vimy Monument continues to be well known to Canadians of all generations Walter Allward, almost forgotten since as the architect of the Monument, has been given a well deserved tribute in Urquhart s novel. Jane Urquhart has demonstrated in A MAP OF GLASS and THE UNDERPAINTER how a person can be transformed by the power of art and memory The characters are sometimes made whole, or shattered, or both In this fifth novel, her eccentric, parochial characters emerge from the harsh, often punishing 19th century landscape of a pioneer community in Southwest Ontario and stretch to a modern monument of the 20th century Her characters tend to be repressed, isolated, and sexually chaste, or go through a long period of continence after a brief, signifying affair in their youth.Father Gstir was sent by the voice of God and King Ludwig from the pastoral landscape of Bavaria to the outback of Ontario, to minister to German Catholic communities He lands in the valley of Shoneval, a farming and mill town of hard working people who haven t had the time or inclination to attend church, and lures them to Mass by arranging a Corus Christi procession that invites community participation and planning We are introduced to Jospeh Becker, a farmer and wood carver with a rare talent, who befriends Father Gstir and creates beautiful sculptures for the new church The only thing missing for the priest is a bell He is obsessed with acquiring one, as he was in Bavaria and ignored by the King His obsession is one of several character s fanatical desires in this book.The story progresses non linearly, but with active forward movement The structure allows for the background of each character to evolve in gentle installments, but with seamless clarity Joseph desires to pass on his artisan skills to his son, Dieter, but it is Dieter s daughter, Klara, who blossoms quietly as a carver, and also learns to master tailoring from her grandmother Her brother, Tilman, named for the great sculptor Tilman Riemenschneider, is too restive to stay and make figures in the round from limewood he is a wanderlust, and leaves the family when he is twelve after his parents chain him to the barn for roaming too frequently and too far from home I went for a walkI followed the road As he wandered, he embraced the spines of hills and the language of water he related to a bridge and compared it to home He loved that bridge with a child s love, the way a boy will love a tree houseBut he loved it too in a way peculiar to his own nature, because it gave him shelter without closing him in There were no impenetrable walls, no doors that might contain locks Tilman becomes a hobo, and learns a lesson about love from unusual events He meets another tramp, Refuto, on his travels, who enfolds him into his big, Italian, warm hearted family Tilman works in stoveworks for a while with Refuto s son, Girogio, trying to tame his meandering spirit, but then takes off to join as a soldier in WW 1 The prodigal son s return is fraught with meaning and a courageous stride into the future.Klara Becker, an attractive seamstress, has worked on a wood carving of a medieval abess for over twenty years, and finally abandons it to the barn with her grief intact Her sorrow and subsequent repression stems from a tragic relationship with a young man, Eamon O Sullivan, when she was twenty Eamon was seduced by aeroplanes into WW 1, and departs to follow a burning dream of becoming a pilot She devotes herself to the church and to her seamstress activities, and embraces her spinster self The sculpture is consigned to loss All her faith was gone and with it the desire for carving, for making something spiritual out of wood With Eamon lost, she felt connected to no one The themes of the story come together in the third part of the novel, near Arras, France, where sculptor Walter Allward is commissioned to create a monument to the Canadian soldiers who died at Vimy Ridge during WW1 Urquhart synthesizes the real life Allward into her novel to herald a compelling story of loss cumulating into redemption, obsession into letting go, repression into passion, and the prevailing, ubiquitous power of memory and the salvation of art.At first, I had difficulty adjusting to the last part of the novel, which removed me from the charming village of Shovenal However, Urquhart convinced me, ultimately, by carrying her motifs and themes to this climactic achievement in history, a monument of memory, arranged by the obsessive Allward but animated by his artisans Even the change from wood carving to marble is symbolic, as the dead stone is brought to life in significant, poignant ways There is so much to discuss about the final chapters, but it is difficult to do without adding spoilers.Allward Carve it with your heart thenLet it go out of your heart and into the stone. At first I was like But then it turned into Overall, I think this book was solid enough for me to actually want to finish it before the due date, however, I probably won t be picking it up for a re read any time soon or ever really.I do think the novel could have been shortened by a good one hundred pages by cutting out some of the unnecessary plot points, and the extra fluffy descriptions of fields. Did not finish in time for my office book club and will have to leave it unfinished just over the 100 page mark I don t want to hate on CanLit but this is also what I hate about CanLit Everything about it rubbed me the wrong way, and it shocks me how much praise it was given when the prose was unforgivable, from the overwrought depictions of Klara s wanderlust brother that scene where he is chained in the yard like a dog as his mom suffers in the house is so corny to the cringe filled sentiment of Eamon s declaration to Klara that no textbook romance novel would ever get away with Eamon was so quiet yet this was Klara s burning, unrequited love At one point, Eamon declares to Klara,I would die of thisWhich yeah, you re not the only one, pal There s weirdness to life, in the subterranean layers in even the most mundane moments to the unspoken tension behind silence, but The Stone Carvers felt so contrived and trying to be than exist and is I suppose there are many overarching themes, transcending grief through art, but it was very treacly drama What I did enjoy from what I read was Klara s forbears settling in Ontario That was interesting from a Canadian history perspective, which as many who took Canadian history know, is not saying much I give it two stars because as much as it triggers me and my Canadian pride, it s not the worst thing one could spend one s time with It s simply mediocre. My initial hook into Jane s another brilliant novel is her intimacy with her protagonist What I love about Jane s narratives is that they are situated in my home province, thus making them so real.I can literally smell, touch, feel, sense and see how her characters live They are multi dimensional evocative, captured within a certain historical juncture, generational, based on memory and complexities of characters a mix of heady ingredients Second no, wait, like third reading At least This is one of the loveliest elegies I ve ever read about the First World War Urquhart s writing is poetry than prose that precise emotion that goes directly to the heart, without getting entangled in intellectual wranglings It is not something I ever have to think about I simply feel every page of this novel as if it enters my heart by osmosis Ultimately, the novel is a tribute for those who fought in World War I Woven within the novel, we are given the history of the family whose descendants would one day pay their tribute, in blood and stone, through the Vimy Ridge Memorial erected in France by the Canadian Government It commemorates those killed or presumed dead all those who showed up for the fight, in fact, and sadly ended up without a marked grave.Ostensibly a history of the German Catholic immigrant to southwestern Ontario, and the building of various communities, including Formosa Shoneval in the novel with its beautiful stone church that stands to this day, it is ultimately a love song of all those who ended up on the battlefields of France and never returned There is nothing easy about giving a child over to the war effort When a community gives up its children or in this case, its one child the entire community feels the repercussions of that loss The ripples emanate from a dead soldier s body, as surely as if he had been dropped as a hundred weight stone in the middle of a pond For years, the loss will continue to be felt For decades, the wounds are carried, and unwittingly channelled through the generations War is not just something that happens statically, in a vacuum, and to those persons winning or losing on the battlefield war is something that trickles through the seasons, the generations, and affects the lives of each community, each country, forever down the line.It is not solely a history of one time or one place it is the history of every time and place It is a song about love, loss and hope, repeated through time, and makes me want to re read it every time new conflicts erupt in the world At this stage, and with the world torn with strife as it is, I might be reading it in an endless loop of days.