THE DREAM STITCHER shifts between the modern-day story of Maude and the fantastical account of Goldye Finkelstein, a Jewish teenager in Warsaw when the Germans invade Poland.
Goldye leaves her parents’ home and passes for “Aryan”, while practicing her remarkable embroidery talents. She’s known for stitching bride’s dreams into their wedding gowns—dreams that become reality—while trying to maintain her romance with a dashing resistance fighter on the other side of the ghetto walls. Meanwhile, in present day, widowed Maude is dealing with her unpartnered and very pregnant daughter, her seemingly senile mother, and massive debt. Sunny southern California somehow becomes the bleaker of the alternating settings, as bitter and disillusioned Maude attempts to unravel the behaviors of her secretive mother and the mysterious tapestry that she’s woven.
Under Nazi occupation, Goldye’s embroidery provides dreams of rebellion to the oppressed. Although the fantasy magic of her embroidery is powerful, the theme of hope being the ultimate power is a very real thread. The bleak setting of the Nazi-occupied Warsaw ghetto feels authentic, complete with vivid horrors, yet author Deborah Gaal infuses this aspect of the story with optimism.
The sections set in the past are easily the strongest and most compelling. Wartime Warsaw is infused with detail and realism, even with the fantasy elements. As the novel progresses, Maude’s story becomes more compelling, as connections between the two eras are made. The plot twists are remarkable, but fit perfectly into the story and never feel artificial.
As well done as the plot and setting are, they take a back seat to the author’s mastery at crafting characters. Even secondary and minor characters feel real and are given fully-fleshed out lives. With a backdrop as hyper-real as the Holocaust, strong characters are required, and Gaal delivers. The women of THE DREAM STITCHER are flawed—creatures of their time and circumstance—but they possess a strength that is both inspiring and beautiful.
Briskly paced with memorable characters, THE DREAM STITCHER is well-crafted and wonderfully satisfying novel and the characters, events, and themes will stay with readers long after they’ve read the final page.
~J.V. Bolkan for IndieReader