Review by Booklist Review
Canadian novelist Urquhart, author most recently of The Underpainter (1997), brings a discerning visual sensibility and near obsession with what makes a man or woman an artist to her exquisitely rendered, morally inquisitive, and intelligently romantic imaginings of the North American past. Tilman is a mystical boy impelled to wander, and comes of age living a blessed hobo's life. Klara, his homebody sister, lovely yet stoic, is gifted in the arts of the needle and the chisel, one skill inherited from her mother, the other from her Bavarian grandfather, who carved the statuary for their tiny Canadian settlement's grand stone church, the brainchild of Father Gstir, who is sent to the frontier by mad King Ludwig in 1866. In a spellbinding tale that spans two time periods and is rife with pairings and parallels, Gstir is matched with Walter Allward, a real-life Canadian sculptor who built the enormous Canadian First World War Monument near Arras, France. With their edifices of faith and memory as her polestars, Urquhart orchestrates poetically dramatic adventures for nomadic Tilman and reclusive Klara, each of whom ultimately discovers the vicissitudes of love, faces the horrors of war, and embraces the solace of art, and of home. --Donna Seaman
From Booklist, Copyright (c) American Library Association. Used with permission.
Review by Publisher's Weekly Review
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. (May 13) Forecast: While she is yet largely unknown to American readers, Urquhart's previous novels earned good review attention here, which is likely to continue with this latest effort, nominated for the Giller Prize in Canada. Increased sales should follow. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
(c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved
Review by Library Journal Review
Urquhart's fifth novel (after The Underpainter) opens with a striking image: in 1934, an enormous stone structure rises from the French countryside. When finished, it will be the Vimy Memorial, honoring thousands of Canadian World War I dead. Among those carving the monument are Tilman and Klara Becker, siblings from a line of brilliant carvers, who are drawn from their tiny Ontario village by the great undertaking. Each is fleeing an existence both peculiar and unfulfilling. Klara, an independent, middle-aged spinster, mourns unceasingly for her great love, Eamon, lost forever in the trenches. Tilman's military service cost him a leg and the peace of mind he maintained even during his years on the road as a youthful tramp after being driven away from home. The reunited sister and brother risk an Atlantic crossing, with Klara disguised as a man in order to be hired at Vimy. Their scarcely articulated hope centers on the redemption of their blighted lives through the wonder of carving virtual life from cold stone. Though at times the Beckers and other characters seem more like emblems than convincing individuals, Urquhart's tale of a talented but tragic clan will find many readers among fans of family sagas. Recommended for larger public libraries. Starr E. Smith, Fairfax Cty. P.L., VA (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.
(c) Copyright Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.