Set in the first half of the twentieth century, but reaching back to Bavaria in the late nineteenth century,The Stone Carversweaves 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 Carversfollows the paths of immigrants, labourers, and dreamers. Vivid, dark, redemptive, this is novel of great beauty and power.
First Chapter or Excerpt
There was a story, a true if slightly embellished story, about how the Ontario village was given its name, its church, its brewery, its tavern, its gardens, its grottoes, its splendid indoor and outdoor altars. How it acquired its hotel, its blacksmith's shop, its streets and roads, its tannery, its cemetery, its general store. This was a legend that appealed to fewer and fewer people in the depression of the early 1930s. Times being what they were, not many villagers had the energy for the present, never mind the past -- the tattered rail fences and sagging porches of the previous century seemed to them to be just two more things in need of repair. The tannery and blacksmith's shop had disappeared years ago, and though the general store was still a fixture, its counter was so warped and scarred it looked as if it might have once served as a butcher's block. It was difficult to believe, in those days, with the older parts of the village in a state of decay usually associated with the decline of a complete civilization and the newer sections consisting of sloppy, half-finished attempts at twentieth-century industry, that one hundred years ago there was no sign of western European culture in the region. Difficult also to believe that it took only one hundred years for this culture to break down under the weight of economic failure. Still the tale continued to be dear to one thirty-eight-year-old spinster who lived half a mile away from the village at a spot known as Becker's Corners and all of the good Sisters at the small Convent of the Immaculate Conception near the top of the village's only hill. These women believed the story connected them, through ancestry, through work and worship, and through vocation to the village's inception. They believed it also connected them to the great church, under whose shadow, in the seldom-visited cemetery, their forebears slept beneath iron crosses that leaned at odd angles to one another, as if trying to establish contact after a long season of isolation and neglect. The nuns and the one spinster clung to the story, as if by telling the tale they became witnesses, perhaps even participants in the awkward fabrication of matter, the difficult architecture of a new world. In the middle of the nineteenth century, in the small village of Inzell, Bavaria, the wonderfully named Pater Archangel Gstir had no opinions about difficult architecture. In fact, Father Gstir was such a contented young man, a young man filled with such happy certainties, that beyond his faith and his fierce desire for a suitable bell to adorn the Romanesque belfry of the little parish church of St. Michael where he was pastor, he had few strong feelings about anything at all. He was troubled by neither women, nor fashion, nor financial insecurities -- the usual afflictions of young men. In his church he was surrounded by a devout and devoted flock of parishioners, and once he stepped outside he was presented with a view of some of the finest mountain scenery in Bavaria, a region not now, and certainly not then, impoverished when it came to ravishing landscape. He spent his weekdays after morning mass cheerfully encouraging German-speaking boys in the study of classical languages, history, natural science, and liturgy. He ate well, enjoying Bavarian beer and his choice of European wines with his meals, and after these meals he took long walks along the edges of the gorgeously scenic Knappensteig, where he was able to admire the peaks of the Watzmann, the Hochkalter, the Hocheisspitze, and the Reiter Alpe. It was his habit on these promenades to pray to the Creator of all this beauty at the charming outdoor shrines and crosses scattered liberally across the hills and mountains. During one of these periods of reflection, just as he was beginning to be distracted by a rare wildflower -- blue with black markings, qui Excerpted from The Stone Carvers by Jane Urquhart All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.