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Painter of Silence
320 pages; Bloomsbury
Georgina Harding's Painter of Silence draws readers into a dreamlike, sometimes nightmarish fairy tale set in a world where paranoia and deprivation dominate daily life—1950s Eastern Europe. The privileged daughter of an upper-class family, Safta spent an enchanted childhood in the Romanian countryside, where her earliest playmate was a servant's son named Augustin. Long after she lost interest in their friendship, Augustin, a deaf mute of eccentric artistic genius, remained devoted to Safta, though his inability (or unwillingness) to communicate made him an increasingly invisible observer of her family's life. The novel begins as Augustin tracks down Safta, now a nurse at an urban hospital, after years without contact. World War II and the Communist aftermath have destroyed the Romania in which they grew up, but Augustin gradually brings Safta's lost past back to her in drawings of her childhood home and of the lover she has long believed abandoned her. Augustin and Safta offer each other something deeper and rarer than romance—a healing respite amid the devastation, which Harding describes with heartbreaking delicacy. "It's not the war anymore and nobody's fighting now but there are casualties everywhere...," Safta says. "You can't see but they're there. The wounded, the shell-shocked, the amputees missing pieces of themselves." The novel's magic lies in Harding's poignant but unsentimental portrayal of people who face such losses and yet find a kind of wholeness.
— Liza Nelson