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Painter of Silence [Paperback]

Georgina Harding
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
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Book Description

26 April 2012


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.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury Paperbacks (26 April 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1408830426
  • ISBN-13: 978-1408830420
  • Product Dimensions: 12.9 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (76 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 8,437 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


Conjures a tale that recalls vintage Michael Ondaatje ... delicate and sweeping (Daily Mail)

This is fiction of the most graceful kind ... a quiet storm of imagery and emotions (Christian House Independent on Sunday)

I loved Painter of Silence. It was like entering a dream world that became more and more real, until I actually needed to get back to it. Her writing is so gentle and beautiful and takes you so confidently on a journey. I let myself be carried away. Heaven (Esther Freud)

Painter of Silence insists on being recommended because of its unassertive originality, its sense of history, its knowledge of the unsaid and the unsayable, and - not least - its delightfully surprising ending (Paul Bailey Independent)

Harding writes with exquisite restraint ... Her deceptively simple prose gives a startling beauty to the ordinary, and evokes great depth of suffering (Guardian)

Harding's writing has a careful, lilting fluency which nourishes a slow-burning momentum ... an adroit examination of our need for a home, and the terrible consequences of its loss (Philip Womack Daily Telegraph)

A must-read ... Hauntingly beautiful, for fans of The English Patient (Viv Groskop Red)

Book Description

An intimate and devastating portrait of Romania during and after the Second World War, through the prism of a moving and utterly original friendship

Shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction 2012

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
64 of 66 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Utterly Mesmerising 15 May 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Without going into too many details in respect of the plot, this is a startlingly original novel. Relatively little has been written about Romania or its experience of the second world war, which lends an entirely new perspective to what may otherwise have been a very familiar theme.

Augustin's story, and in particular the horrors to which he was subjected during the occupation of Romania, is conveyed with extraordinary poignancy. However, it is the unfolding of the events in the summer months leading up to the outbreak of war which is truly mesmerising.

Georgina's Harding's evocation of time and place is superb, and absorbs the reader completely in to the life and characters of Poiana. An overwhelming sense of nostalgia pervades the novel, for a golden age lost and forever irrecoverable, particularly for Safta. The prose is spare and beautiful, and draws the reader entirely in to the carefree, but restless atmosphere of the great house and its inhabitants.

The tragedy of the central characters is deeply and effortlessly conveyed, and haunts you long after finishing the novel, in spite of the story's uplifting ending.

This book is just over 300 pages long, but it seemed much shorter and I really didn't want it to end. It is easily the best book I've read so far this year.
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75 of 79 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Hauntingly Beautiful 2 Mar 2012
Georgina Harding's latest novel 'Painter of Silence' is set in Romania; it is the early 1950s and a frail, almost skeletal young man is found collapsed on the steps of the city of Iasi's hospital. He has no papers on him and offers no information about himself - in fact he does not speak at all, and it is some days before it is realized that the man is a deaf mute. One of the nurses, a young woman named Safta, recognizes the mute patient but, for reasons of her own, does not want the other staff at the hospital to discover this. Safta, who knows the history of the young man, brings paper and drawing materials into the hospital so that they can communicate through the sketches they draw and, in this way, she hopes to encourage the man back to life with memories of their shared upbringing.

The young man's name is Augustus; he was the son of the cook at Poiana, a grand rural estate which was Safta's family home and the place where both of them were born six months apart. We read how, as a very small child "growing up beside him in the days even before she herself learned to speak, little Safta had come to know him with a quick intuition as if he was the silent side of her self." However, as Safta grows into a beautiful young woman keen to embrace all that life has to offer and becomes very attracted to a young visitor to Poiana, she moves away from Augustus and he becomes the silent onlooker to her sexual awakening. And when Safta leaves Poiana, Augustus stays on, living his life in the way he has always done, until World War II rages through Europe and Romania is left in ruins only to be followed by the Communist takeover. There are things that Augustus needs to tell Safta, but can they be conveyed through the medium of his pictures?
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25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Painting with words 5 Jun 2012
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This beautifully written, very moving book tells the story of two young people whose very different lives are torn apart by war and politics. At the start of the book, Augustin, who is deaf and cannot speak, is travelling across Romania on a desperate mission which almost kills him, but he refuses to give up until he finds his childhood friend, Safta. He eventually locates her at work in a hospital in the city of Iasi, but by the time he gets there he's in such a state that he collapses and is taken to a ward to recover.

Safta immediately recognises him as the daughter of her family's maid, but decides not to tell her colleagues of their connection. In flashbacks the story is told of their childhood in a large house in the Romanian countryside. On the surface life is idyllic; Safta and her brothers are loved and cherished by their parents and encouraged in their education and ambitions. Their mother decides to make Augustin her `project', instructing the children's governess to try to teach him to read and write in order to give him every chance in life. However, Augustin's abilities as an artist are apparent from an early age and he shuns the written word and chooses to communicate through pictures.

Beneath this happy veneer all is not well within the family, and in the wider world the threat of war in Europe is looming. This is a relatively short book (I read it over the course of a day) but a very powerful and emotional read, the memory of which will stay with me for some time. It really brought home the devastation wrought on Romania and other Eastern European countries - not just by the war but also afterwards, when the Communists moved in and requisitioned houses and reassigned jobs to suit their own ideology.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
By Roman Clodia TOP 100 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition
Set in Romania in the aftermath of the Second World War and with the country under communist rule, this is a book which tells a harsh and sometimes bleak story in lyrical, quiet prose.

Safta and Augustin, the deaf-mute painter of the title, are brought up together as children, she the daughter of the house, he the cook's son. The book follows a dual narrative of the past in the run-up to, and course of, the war; and the present set in the 1950s when Safta and Augustin re-meet.

This isn't a busy, page-turning, action-filled novel - it's muted and restrained and depicts both its horrors and its evocation of a lost, golden past in an understated way. Almost the whole of the book is `told' to us rather than shown, so there is very little direct speech throughout the novel - perhaps itself a comment on the silent world of Augustin - and it took me a little while to settle into the rhythm of the book. Once settled, however, the prose becomes almost mesmeric in its ability to draw the reader in and keep her captured. I liked that this doesn't follow a conventional romance narrative, the relationships are far more subtle and nuanced than that.

Relatively recent changes in Europe have opened up viewpoints of the war, allowing us to experience it from Eastern rather than just a Western European perspective: if you enjoyed this, then you might also like The Beautiful Truth which engages with the Polish war experience, also told in beautifully lyrical and moving prose.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written and haunting
This novel depicts in a simple yet effective way the events that took place in Roumania over the war as seen by a deaf and dumb man who is unable to ask why these things are... Read more
Published 1 month ago by jane harwood
5.0 out of 5 stars Another world, enchantingly captured
A juicy but beautiful book shot-through with an almost tangible love and deep knowledge of its subject. Read more
Published 1 month ago by Al Licks from Tyneside
5.0 out of 5 stars A most original and very moving book
A most unusual plot but illustrates the side effects of was on innocent non-participants. Should be read by ego-tripping prime ministers and presidents.
Published 3 months ago by Reg Sheppard
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant
Being a fan of Georgina Harding and her novel "The Solitude of Thomas Cave! I just had to read this. Read more
Published 5 months ago by hi-dell
3.0 out of 5 stars Frustrating ar times.
A well-told story but I found it difficult to understand the actions of some of the characters and their motivations.
Published 6 months ago by lindsey
4.0 out of 5 stars Very good
I wasn't sure whether I would like this book or not but I really did by the end. I will look out for others by this author.
Published 6 months ago by jane grace
2.0 out of 5 stars Comment
I really did not like this book. The subject matter did not appeal to me, read it as a a book club choice, and I felt that the boy's handicap was not well handled.
Published 9 months ago by Kay
5.0 out of 5 stars unexpected treat
A deaf mute man in hospital in Romania in the fifties and a nurse who recognises him as a childhood companion. She, a daughter of the house, he,son of the cook. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mrs Lofts
5.0 out of 5 stars moving and absorbing
I thoroughly enjoyed this beautifully written novel, unusual story and well-paced, well structured unfolding of the tale, with excellent atmospheric depiction.
Published 10 months ago by marilyn vihman
5.0 out of 5 stars The evocative descriptions transported me into another time and place
It took me a few chapters go get into this book; at the beginning, I felt the story was too simple, almost familiar. Read more
Published 10 months ago by Mme Suzanne Lageard
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