A quick rundown…Safta and Augustin grew up together in Yugoslavia, but are now worlds apart – he is mute and she has gone to the city.
Strengths: Beautiful, haunting lyricism
Weaknesses: It took a little bit of time to get into (but is one of those books that sticks in your memory)
Why I read it: Bloomsbury kindly sent this to me – thank you!
Rating: 9 out of 10
Painter of Silence has been floating around the edges of my radar for some time – I’d read some good reviews on blogs, then it was listed for this year’s Orange Prize. Then thanks to the lovely people at Bloomsbury, I received a review copy. And now I’ve read it and I feel guilty. Why? Because this book should have been on the centre of my radar – it’s one of those books that you thoroughly enjoy, then curse yourself for not reading the instant it landed in your hands.
Painter of Silence has a gentle tone that builds and sways until you become completely enthralled with it. It does take a little while to get into – sorting out exactly who the characters are, the different time periods (before and after the second World War) and where they fit in relation to each other. You’ll find that everything does fit perfectly and each character and their actions have a reason.
The novel brings together two disparate characters – a mute, deaf homeless man who is brought into a hospital suffering from what sounds like a respiratory infection (possibly TB, I like to try to diagnose my characters) and a nurse from another ward who shows him kindness. These two people are the main characters – Augustin (Tinu) and Safta. They grew up together, Safta in the big house and Tinu as the child of one of the workers. Tinu was born deaf (Safta born to make noise) but they complement each other. Tinu has come to the city to tell Safta something she needs to know. By chance, Safta hears of the mute man and comes to see that it is Tinu. She gives him some paper and pencils and he begins to do what he has always done – draw.
Through Tinu’s drawings and flashbacks to their childhoods, we begin to see how this pair and their families have been damaged during the war and the subsequent change in politics within Romania to a communist state. Harding paints exquisite pictures, making the simple sound beautiful and extraordinary. The writing is out of this world – it’s lyrical, vivid and gives the whole novel a sort of nostalgia that’s not tainted by time. Harding also gets deeply into the minds of her characters – Safta, frustrated at the turn of events that changed her life, and Tinu, whose life the war tears apart. The supporting characters are endearing (particularly the nurse Adriana, who looks after Tinu in the hospital and eventually takes him home, naming him Ioan after her dead son).
I found this book beautiful and I’ll definitely read more by this author.