Wednesday, April 25, 2012

book review: Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding

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)
Source: purchased

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.

As an affiliate, I receive a small commission when you make a purchase through any of the above links. Thank you for helping to support my book habits that bring more content to this blog!

10 comments:

  1. I want to say that your reviews have given me a lot of good reading lately! So thank you!! I'm currently reading Butterfly's Child, after seeing your review, and really enjoying it.

    The 4.5 rating on this particular title leads me to believe it's another I must get soon. Of the others on the short list, I was immediately drawn to the storyline, but found that my library (again) didn't have a copy. The interlibrary loan process is a nightmare in Fulton county, so I might just try and find a copy for purchase. The communication element of this novel is fascinating and I'm looking forward to sharing.

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    1. Oh, good! I adored Butterfly's Child. Painter of Silence was so intriguing too. At first I thought "not another WW2 novel," but it's so much more than that (as are all of the ones I love, I suppose...) I can't wait to hear your thoughts on this one!

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  2. I think this book sounds so intriguing, and I love the way that your writing in this review mirrors and reflects the mystery of the book. It sounds as if this would be something that I could really sink my teeth into, and I think it's a high compliment to say that this one might be deserving of the prize. I need to find it.

    Like the commenter above, your review of Butterfly's Child inspired me to grab the book, and it just arrived yesterday! Can't wait to get to it!

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    1. Enjoy Butterfly's Child! I keep thinking of that one!

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  3. I can't wait to get to this, I'm currently number 3 in the hold list. I had high expectations for it and now after reading your review I've raised them even higher :)

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    1. Sam, I'll look forward to your thoughts! I didn't quite know what to expect, and I admit I didn't even think the title through to ponder what 'painter of silence' meant. It's certainly a worthy addition to the shortlist, and I'm so pleased to have discovered it!

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  4. I haven't paid any attention to this one, so I'm really glad you got my attention with this review!

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    1. Andi--I hope it will get more buzz with the U.S. publication this fall. It's a special novel.

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  5. This one sounds so good! I hadn't heard of it yet, but it's going on the TBR list.

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    1. Melissa--I think you'd like this one!

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Thank you for taking the time to comment. Happy reading!