Tuesday, 5 February 2013

"Painter of Silence" by Georgina Harding

 Iasi, Romania, the early 1950s. A nameless man is found on the steps of a hospital. Deaf and mute, he is unable to communicate until a young nurse called Safta brings paper and pencils with which he can draw. Slowly, painstakingly, memories appear on the page. 

The memories are Safta's also. For the man is Augustin, son of the cook at the manor house which was Safta's family home. Born six months apart, they grew up with a connection that bypassed words. But while Augustin's world remained the same size Safta's expanded to embrace languages, society - and a fleeting love, one long, hot summer.

But then came war, and in its wake a brutal Stalinist regime, and nothing would remain the same. 

I was initially drawn to this book because of the protagonist's deafness, a topic that, as a mother of a deaf child, interests me on a personal level.

Augustin is a deaf mute and his only way of communicating with the world are his drawings, which he can detail down to perfection. We get to wander into his mind and see the world through his eyes and thoughts, and I came to really love this sensitive, childlike soul trying to make sense of a world he can't really fit in, as he watches big historical and social changes unfolding and turning his reality upside down.

The only person that ever was able to reach him, was his childhood friend, Safta. They live at opposite ends of the social spectrum, but somehow find a connection that life and history cannot break. Her strong, defying nature is complementary to Augustin's fragility.

The novel has a challenging structure, jumping as it does from present to past, switching tenses and points of view, but somehow it flows and the narrative is sewn together with great skill.

The historical and social settings serves as an interesting background in which to weave the story, as they mirror and shape the lives of the protagonists and the many other characters they meet on their way. 

If you like fast-paced stories, then this is not for you. If on the other hand you want to dive into a narrative you can slowly savour and absorb, this book will not disappoint you. There are beautiful passages and turns of phrase that stay with you and paint beautiful images, much like the title suggests.

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