The backstory: Painter of Silence is on the 2012 Orange Prize shortlist.
The basics: Set in Romania in the 1950s. Painter of Silence is the story of Augustin, a deaf mute found on the steps of the hospital with no identification. Safta, a nurse, recognizes him from her home in Poiana, where Augustin's mother worked as a cook for her family.
My thoughts: Georgina Harding's writing grabbed me from the opening lines of this novel, and there is a sense of mystery that continues throughout. The story seamlessly moves back and forth in time between Poiana and Iasi, as well as between Safta and Augustin. Initially, I was quite drawn to Augustin during the flashbacks to his childhood. By showing how teachers responded to the deaf mute boy, Harding urges the reader to both identify with Augustin and imagine how to communicate with him, as he has no knowledge of sound or language.
As the title implies, Augustin is a talented artist. What he lacks in language, he makes up for with phenomenal visual recall and art. His ability to replicate minute details of past places is particularly moving because of the war's devastating effect on Romania.
Favorite passage: "I know, that was the war, and it’s not the war any more and nobody’s fighting now but there are casualties everywhere, here in the park. It’s just that you can’t see the injuries any more. You can’t see but they’re there. The wounded, the shell-shocked, the amputees missing pieces of themselves."
The verdict: This novel has an insistence to it, as Harding's beautiful writing takes the reader on a journey through Romania before, during and after the war and into the mind of a man who has only art with which to communicate. The non-linear narrative flows beautifully and allows the reader to understand both these characters and their world more deeply. It would be a worthy Orange Prize winner.
Rating: 4.5 out of 5
Length: 320 pages
Publication date: September 18, 2012 (it's out in the UK now)
Convinced? Treat yourself! Pre-order Painter of Silence from an independent bookstore, the Book Depository or Amazon (no Kindle version yet.)
Bonus buy: Spy Game, an earlier novel by Georgina Harding, is currently only $1.99 for the Kindle.
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