The Stone Carvers

Walmart # 558431496

The Stone Carvers

Walmart # 558431496
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A major bestseller in Canada, "The Stone Carvers" is set against the backdrop of World War II, bringing together history and art in a story both intimate and worldly.

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The Stone Carvers begins

The Stone Carvers begins in Germany with one Father Gstir a German priest who has the habit of annoying his bishop by interminably requesting a bell for his church. Deciding to get rid of the problem the bishop sends Fr. Gstir all the way to a remote location in the wilds of Ontario Canada where a number of German immigrants are trying to establish a community. There he meets one Joseph Becker a wood artisan and sculptor masquerading as a lumberjack. Over the years between the two of them they will build a church around which that community will come into being. Generations later the book refocuses on the two grandchildren of Becker--Tilman and Klara. Tilman is meant to follow in his father's and grandfather's footsteps as a woodcarver of altars and religious icons. Klara is meant to become a seamstress. Tilman has a wild streak--he is a wanderer even as a young boy sometimes disappearing for weeks and months. Tilman's mother finally convinces the father to take more drastic measures to keep him at home. He is chained to a bed out in the barn. It will be his younger sister Klara who will one day free him and Tilman disappears down the road this time for good. Klara had always wanted to carve as well and now by default she is given the chance. Her mom dying soon after Tilman's disappearance Klara as well continues to make clothes for the community. Several years later she falls in love with an Irish boy Eamon O'Sullivan. Eamon is a quiet boy but their relationship grows and in secret becomes sexual. And it is at this point that the First World War intrudes. Eamon wants to enlist. He dreams of becoming a pilot. Instead he becomes an ordinary foot soldier. Klara and Eamon do not part happily. Klara does not want Eamon to go and she will over the course of the next 20 or so years regret the anger of their parting because Eamon does not return--there's no body--no nothing. Tilman in the meanwhile has lived life as a hobo. Eventually though he hooks up with an Italian family in the industrial port city of Hamilton Ontario where he finds works at a stove factory or making religious statuary. His best friend is Giorgio Vigamonti and both enlist as well when Canada goes to war. Giorgio returns in one piece and goes back to the kind of work he had before the war. Tilman comes back with only one leg and for a time works in a factory making wooden protheses for other crippled veterans. It peters out eventually though and he goes back to begging. And then the Great Depression hits and there's no work for anyone. Tilman visits Giorgio in Hamilton. Giorgio has heard about a project to build a memorial in France commenorating Canada's missing from the war at the site of the Vimy Ridge battlefield. Giorgio has decided to go to France to work on the monument. Tilman having lost a leg there is not interested. Giorgio plants another idea in his head--to return to the family farm to see how his own people are doing. So after 20 some years Tilman finally returns home to find only his sister living as a spinster on the family farm. In the course of a few days they catch up. Tilman, one day, tells Klara about his friend Giorgio--and the monument to be built in France. Upon hearing that Klara who had never really shaken off thoughs about Eamon, decides she has to go and be part of it. Tilman is aghast at that thought but finally relents when he sees how important it is to her. She will have to go as a man. The last part of the book revolves around the construction of the memorial with much insight into its creator Walter Allward and the landscape, the tunnels, unexploded mines, the parephenalia lying around. One day several months after their arrival Klara gets up early to start carving the face of her beloved Eamon on a statue and is caught by Allward himself. Allward is outraged as he has his own precise ideas about every aspect of how he wants things to be. However finding out now that 'Karl' is in fact 'Klara' and then discovering the motive and that her work is excellent he relents and lets her finish--even lets her stay though the identity switch is over with. Soon afterwards a romance begins between her and Tilman's friend Giorgio. Anyway that more or less the nuts and bolts of it. It is an excellent read. Urquhart has great control over pace and draws a fine line between pathos and humor. It's not really historical fiction though there are elements of that here. In some respects it reminded me of my favorite Michael Ondaatje book 'In the skin of a lion'. Anyway I liked it very much and have no problem recommending it.

The Stone Carvers did not

The Stone Carvers did not draw me in as much as I hoped it would based on the description. The plot is rather vast and follows several different characters, and the narrative changes perspectives from one character to another through-out the novel. We learn the story of Father Gstir, who built a large stone church in a German-settled town in Northern Ontario; Joseph Becker, a wood carver who made many things for Father Gstir; Klara Becker, the granddaughter of Joseph who learned to carve from him and is a spinster at age 40 following many losses in her younger years; Tilman Becker, Klara's brother who also carves and has wunderlust from a young age; Allward, a Canadian carver who designs a large post-WWI monument in France; and Giorgio, an Italian-Canadian stone carver and friend of Tilman. The result of all these different perspectives in the book is that I never really got attached to any of the characters. Things felt a bit disconnected and none of their stories grabbed me enough to really care what happened to them. The plot line had a slight fantastical sense to it; not that anything actually magical happened, but it didn't quite feel wholly realistic and believable. The very end of the book felt unnecessary, as there was a paragraph at the end where the author essentially tells the reader what the main themes were in the book - as if she didn't quite believe that the book itself would show us these things.All that said, the story was mildly interesting, at least enough for me to finish the book. There were aspects of the story that were beautiful in a way, telling of love and loss and finding beauty. I may give Urquhart a second chance with one of her other books.

I'm not too excited about

I'm not too excited about this book. In fact I've decided I'm not such a fan of Urquhart's work. There's something about her writing style that fails to draw me in. Essentially, she takes an historical event or issue, and tries to make it interesting to everyday readers by building a fiction story around it. In this case the story is a little far-fetched in places and I'm not sure that the reader gets to know the characters well enough to be able to really feel their emotions. Perhaps my negativity is also due to the fact that I don't relate so well to the 19th century and early 20th century context.


WARNING: SPOILERS!! A few disjointed thoughts:I am only halfway through the book at this point but I am fascinated with the themes which keep repeating throughout the book. I have not yet wrapped up my thoughts on these themes, since I am still reading, but I see the theme of flight repeated again and again. The imagery of birds and even the aeroplane which Eamon encounters ties into this theme. I believe that by the time I finish this book I will be able to tie all of these ideas together in a more proper manner. Right now, however, I simply see that flight and journeys are a basic element of the plot. The Bavarians "took flight" from Germany to escape war. Tilman is constantly leaving home and his journeys are described as "flights". He travels when he sees birds in "flight". An aeroplane (a metal bird) allows Eamon to first fly and instills in him a desire to fly again...leading to his enlistment in WW1. Interestingly, Dieter and Helga first intimate encounter occurs after Dieter has been hunting ducks and Helga watches a duck flapping it's wing as they have sex...the encounter ending at the same time that the duck dies. It is this same encounter where Tilman is conceived--therefore the dying of the duck can be seen as the time when Helga becomes "tied down" to her family and is no longer "free to fly". Captivity, or the absence of flight, is also a recurring theme--the most obvious example being Tilman's harness and chain. Phoebe, whom Tilman meets on the road, shares a fear of entrapment and a desire to run. She, however, is running from the pain of the loss of a child. Her husband is loving and caring, but she cannot permit herself to stay with him for fear of encountering the pain of losing another baby again. Phoebe runs from her fear of losing a child; Helga imprisons the child she is afraid of losing; Klara tries to push away the memory of the man she is afraid of losing; Refuto runs from guilt after the death of his brother. All of them appear to "go mad" in one way or another (Klara has bouts of crazy behavior such as when she lets the fog into the house). I am wondering if I can somehow link King Ludwig's madness to these story characters--have only thought of that right now. Also--the fog and mist in the story can also be connected to the lack of ability to fly. Again--will have to think that idea over some more. Now, back to reading!Enjoyed the book very much until the part where Tilman turns out to be gay. Why??? Why ruin the book with a gay encounter that really has no reason to be there? I don't want to read about men together with men--it's unnatural and appalling to God. It's appalling to me too! I was going to keep this book until that point--now I will get rid of it. That totally ruined the book for me.

This book flipped between

This book flipped between different periods and tales, and was partly a love story, partly a story about war, partly about obsession to get a war memorial built to perfection. The story kept me reading, although the characters were a bit two-dimensional for my liking, and a lot of it wasn't particularly exciting or thrilling. Even the carving, the apparently central and unifying part of the novel, was a bit pathetic and glossed over (if you pardon the pun!). It was ok, but not particularly captivating.
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