All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Painter Of Silence – Georgina Harding

on May 9, 2012

Painter Of Silence
Georgina Harding
Bloomsbury Publishing
2012, 312p
Read from my local library

In Romania after the Second World War, a man is found on the steps of a hospital, frail and very ill. He is taken in and treated as best the nurses can without having the funds to buy the expensive drugs he needs to get better. One nurse in particular takes a shining to him, talking to him softly as she looks after him. Because the man hasn’t spoken, they don’t know anything about him – his name, his age, where he comes from. This nurse, Adriana names him Ioan, after her son who hasn’t come back from the war.

Another nurse, Safta is the first to acknowledge that he is both deaf and mute. She brings him paper and pencils so that he may draw, tell them about himself and what he has been through by showing them and give them the information they need. What Adriana doesn’t know and what Safta doesn’t admit to is that she knows him – has always known him. He has been a part of her life for as long as she can remember, the son of a peasant girl who helped out in the household she grew up in. He was always included and he has always been able to draw.

He doesn’t touch the pencils and paper at first but slowly he moves to begin his tale, drawing houses and stables, horses and a car, beautiful Romanian countryside. Safta left the home before the war and its soldiers swept through, but he stayed. He saw things, things which he outlines on paper, painting a picture for Safta that’s worth a thousand words. She senses some urgency in some of the drawings and she knows that he is trying to explain something to her, something specific that he desperately wants her to know.

It is becoming too dangerous for him to stay within the city – people are curious and they know he isn’t Adriana’s son come back from the war. Safta decides she must take him back, even though it will be dangerous for her to go back there. And along the way, he will tell her his story.

Painter Of Silence is one of those books that I found just worked for me. Sometimes you can’t explain a reaction that you’ll have to a book and I think this might be one of those times. It’s beautifully written, Harding manages to convey so much through the eyes of Augustin/Ioan, our deaf and mute character. We begin with his train arriving in the city where he is seeking someone, only her name written on a piece of paper and where she works. He has never been to a city before, in fact he hasn’t been many places at all in his life. He is ill, he cannot ask for help or where to go and he has no where to stay until he can find who he is searching for. When he collapses, he is lucky that it is outside the hospital, both for the help it means he will receive and the fact that he has found who he has been searching for.

The reader is then taken back to his and Safta’s childhood – his birth, the realisation that he cannot speak or hear, the attempts to educate him nonetheless and the idea of having him convey his expressions through drawing. There is a bond between him and the other children, particularly Safta, despite the divide of their class. He is a silent observer, not always understanding what it is that he is witnessing. His childhood is content, he is well taken care of, people take an interest with him. But that all changes once the family vacate the house when the war is coming.

From then on, his world is different, it is a darker place and unlike most people, there’s no one he can talk to for comfort. Most of the time he doesn’t even understand why what is happening around him, is even happening at all. He witnesses shocking events, he deals with things alone, sometimes in a way that breaks your heart.

This book is just so vivid – I could imagine myself there, even though I have no idea what Romanian countryside looks like. Through his eyes, the scenes came alive – the house, the stables, the rolling fields, the distant hills. The family dynamics and relationships were told through the eyes of an innocent stable boy, the son of a peasant woman. He gains such simple pleasures from things like taking a trip in the family car and working with the horses. He has something of a ‘gift’ with them.

The characters in this book are just so unbelievably real, from the nurse Adriana, who waits patiently for the return of her son from where he was fighting. She’s on her own now, living in one room in someone else’s house after houses were taken and carved up after the war. She adopts Augustin/Ioan out of kindness and also a desperation in that if she can’t have her son, she can perhaps have this young man who has no one… There’s Safta, a young girl who knew the privilege of being well off and having a comfortable life but that didn’t stop her experiencing teenage heartbreak and then the loss of her family home and the fracturing of her family. There are other characters that come and go, peppering the story with realism.

This is a story that will stick with you, the writing is so lovely and lyrical, beautiful passages that linger in your mind long after you’ve finished the book. It’s an impressive story, one of love, loss, hope and a war that penetrated deep into the countryside.


Book #76 of 2012

The Orange Prize, 2012

Painter Of Silence is shortlisted for the 2012 Orange Prize. It’s my intention this year to read the entire shortlist – I’ve always thought about doing it in recent years and then let it kind of fall by the wayside. I read another shortlisted title, State Of Wonder by Ann Patchett last year, so this is my 2nd of 6 titles completed. So far this one is definitely my favourite and were it to win I’d be very happy! Onto the other 4 titles now.

4 responses to “Painter Of Silence – Georgina Harding

  1. VeganYANerds says:

    This sounds like a fantastic story, all I could think about while reading this is how difficult it would be to be born mute and deaf and I really intrigued by the back story. Also, I love when you just get a book and you can’t explain why, you just do – great review!

  2. […] for a second opinion? Here’s what some others thought: BookBath | ALL THE BOOKS I CAN READ | […]

  3. Lisa Hill says:

    Hi, I came here via meeting you at Twitter:)
    I discovered this book via Kim at Reading Matters, and I loved it too.

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