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4.2 out of 5 stars
Painter of Silence
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
This is a hauntingly beautiful novel, set in pre and post war Romania. Augustin is a deaf mute boy, born to the cook at the ‘big house,’ and Safta is the first born child of the family who live there. The two are born six months apart and, despite their different status, have an immediate understanding and sympathy with each other. The book begins after the war, when Augustin arrives in the city to look for Safta and is found, emaciated and delirious, on the hospital steps. Safta is a nurse and recognises him at once, although she is careful not to admit to this fact. For Romania is a country of fear, repression and informers and it is best to guard your secrets.

The story switches from past to present, as we learn of life in Poiana, the country house where Safta grows up with her brothers. There are love affairs, the ties of land and family and, above all, art. Augustin uses his talent as an artist to portray his feelings and so, when Safta meets him again so many years later, she first brings him paper and pencil. The war has scattered the inhabitants of Poiana and changed their futures forever. However, Safta is determined to find a safe haven for Augustin, now that he has returned to her. It is fair to say that not much happens in this book. Reading it is almost like looking through a book of photographs. You feel removed from events, viewing everything from a distance, but the pictures the text makes are both evocative and memorable.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on 21 May 2012
I agree with the comparisons made of this book to Ondaatje - it certainly has that languid pace and lyrical feel I've experienced in his work. The story is intriguing enough to keep the momentum of the narrative going, so that the beautiful writing and gorgeous turns of phrase do not dominate, but rather support and enhance the storytelling. I loved the relationship between the two central characters, and found their chubby nurse ally charming and true. For me, the most interesting thing of all was the portrayal of wartime Romania - a country I know little about. Incidentally, if you're reading this as part of the Orange shortlist, it might be good to read this before you turn to Foreign Bodies, which features a character who is a post-war refugee from Romania.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 30 July 2012
I enjoyed this well-written book.

Set in Romania and spanning a period from before World War II to after the Communist takeover, the two main protagonists are Safta, the daughter of the squire of the manor, and Augustin, the illegitimate and deaf-mute son of the cook. Safta and the artistic Augustin are very close during childhood, but drift apart and lose sight of each other. Augustin eventually finds her after many hardships suffered during the War. This may sound like perfect ingredients for a slushy tear-jerker, but Harding has instead skilfully produced an interesting and completely unsentimental account of love in all its guises.

Without language, Augustin can communicate only in a very limited way (often through his drawings). My interpretation was that partial understanding is the best that anyone can hope for, even with spoken words: one can only catch glimpses of another's life, no matter how close to each other.

The story has an unexpected but happy ending. I was even inspired to look up some Romanian history afterwards.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 23 August 2012
I enjoyed the first half of this novel more than the second, although there is a similarity to the English Patient. I am not entirely familiar with the role and circumstances of Rumania during WWII and have learned something about that. There are good descriptions of the country and landscape which vividly portray the environment. The most interesting parts of the book, for me, involved Safta and her development into adulthood and during the war when the Russian soldiers occupy the old house. Augustin's journey is interesting and there are excellent descriptions of his artwork which reflect his life-experience and memories, however, the closed-in nature of his character becomes limiting and loses its intensity as the novel concludes. Ultimately, it is very well written and develops a timeless quality towards the conclusion of the journey home. An absorbing read.
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on 8 August 2013
This book wasn't really what I expected. I thought that as a reader we would be wondering who this man was who had turned up on the steps of a hospital. This was true initially, but we didn't make a discovery so much as the secret was, rather too quickly, revealed. It took away some of the mystery which I had expected to get from the book, and actually made it harder to get into than it could potentially have been. I was never at a point where I thought I would give up, but I wasn't very interested in it most of the way through, and tended to be doing other things when I would normally have been reading it. Consequently it took me quite a long time to finish.

It wasn't even exactly that it was a bad story. It just took a long time to get to a point in the story where I was interested. Generally speaking I found the background story the most interesting, but that story didn't really pick up until the war started, and more so after the war. In ways I found the most interesting parts were over a little quickly. One particular example is when Augustin is telling part of his story to Safta. It felt like a rather sketchy version of a story which would have interested me. It seemed like there could be a big story there, but because it was told through Augustin's pictures we only got the outline. The nature of the story didn't really make this needed. I can see wanting to take time to reveal the story. I can even see why Harding gave such a basic version. I just didn't like it!

The Painter of Silence was on the shortlist for The Woman's Prize for Fiction (formally The Orange Prize) last year, and I can see why. It has a style of writing which tends to be popular with literary prizes
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on 22 July 2012
Set in pre-war, wartime, and post-war Romania, this is exquisitely written and full of beautiful imagery through which a strong underlying story slowly unfolds in a series of present-day scenarios and flashbacks.

The book begins though when Angustin, born deaf though no one realised it early enough to teach him the meaning of words, arrives in a city to search for Safta, daughter at the country house where Augustin's mother had been cook. Born within six months of each other, they played together as children and developed an understanding that needed no speech.

Augustin communicated through pictures, which he spent long hours drawing. He also had an innate affinity with horses, grooming them in the stables, and looking on helplessly when Safta inevitably fell in love. Then war came and scattered the family, tearing apart everything Augustin had known and loved, his fate uncertain after his lack of understanding leads to trouble.

The story is compelling, but it is the use of language that makes it such an enchanting read. If you're after something fast-moving this may not be for you, but I was sorry to finish it and would recommend it to anyone who appreciates beautifully writing.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 18 September 2012
I read this book whilst I was on holiday I thought this was a good read. I liked the slow pace of the book and the simplicity of it. I like being able to imagine what Romania was like and it has made me want to explore and go to Romania. I would be interested in reading any further novels which are written by Georgina Hardingyou are holida. This book is a nice book to read whilst you are on holiday.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on 24 March 2013
I had to read this for a book club, so went into it with a fairly open mind. It does have interesting moments and some beautiful descriptions of the country. For me, there were some plot/character inconsistencies which really jarred, but I am a stickler for that kind of detail.
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The Painter of Silence of the title is a deaf mute called Augustin born to a cook on a large estate – Polana - in pre-war Romania. His way of communicating is through his drawings – he proves to be very talented. As a child he befriends Safta, the daughter of the house, and he is an observer as she falls in love with a handsome visitor to the house. The war causes an upheaval and ultimate tragedy to many.

The writing is simple and wonderfully descriptive. I found the part where Augustin is arrested because of his drawings particularly moving. Unfortunately I did not really believe in the character of Augustin and felt there were considerable inconsistencies in the plot.

A pleasant enough read – and the ending was suitably satisfactory.

(Probably 3.5 stars but I err on the side of generosity!)
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on 11 July 2013
I'm so pleased I've finally got round to reading this novel after meeting the author last year at Bloomsbury. I'd enjoyed her other books but this has got to be my favourite. The main character (deaf and mute) and his artistic gift really made this an interesting and unusual read. I knew very little about life in Romania before and after the second world war so consider I've learnt something - how fortunate most of us are. The suffering seemed all the more terrible for being sparsely, yet elegantly described. A very clever writer! This book will stay with me. Please ignore any negative reviews and make your own mind up!
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