Painter of Silence
By Georgina Harding
Set against the backdrop of pre- and post-World War II Romania, Painter of Silence is the story of two childhood friends, Safta and Augustin. Safta is the daughter of wealthy Romanian landowners and becomes a nurse during World War II. Augustin is the son of cook who works at Safta's manor; he is deaf and mute, but the two share a communication that transcend speech and hearing.
The story opens with Augustin arriving in Iasi, looking for Safta. He manages to find the hospital where she works and crumbles on its doorstep. Augustin is very ill, and he is rushed inside the hospital for care. Safta learns that a deaf and mute man has been admitted, and her suspicions are confirmed - it is her long lost friend.
The story then goes back and forth between Augustin's recovery, and memories of Safta and Augustin's childhood. Augustin communicates through drawing pictures, and Safta gives him paper and pencils so he can tell what happened to him after the war started. Slowly, Harding paints a picture, through Augustin, of how World War II and the arrival of communism affected Romania. In a span of a few years, Romania went through great upheaval, affecting the lives of every citizen - rich and poor.
Painter of Silence starts slowly, working steadily through small crescendos until the reader learns the full histories of Augustin and Safta. The last 100 pages are captivating, and the ending has a small twist that ties a few loose ends. It was a cerebral story, and comparisons to the writing style of Michael Ondaatje are spot on. There is strength in silence, and the quiet aspect of Painter of Silence makes it a novel not easily forgotten. I recommend Painter of Silence to fans of literary fiction and the Orange Prize. ( )