I picked this book up because the title intrigued me. The painter of the title is Augustin, who is deaf and mute. We first meet him when he arrives in the Romanian city of Iași, in the early 50s, a time of Stalinist oppression. Augustin (Tinu) makes his way to a hospital, where his childhood companion Safta is working.
The writing is quite beautiful and verging on the poetic.
How complete the blackness must be when a deaf man closes his eyes.
Tinu is the fatherless son of the cook on a rich estate, where Safta is the daughter of the Lord of the manor. Then after one long hot summer, where Safta falls in love with the Lagonda driving lothario Andrei, war is declared and nothing will be the same again.
Tinu can only communicate with humans through his drawings, he has more skill communicating with horses and helps look after the Lippanzer on the estate. His drawings are also a means of trying to understand his world, which for an introverted deaf mute in such challenging times is not easy. He carefully stitches his drawings together into albums.
Painter of Silence moves between the two worlds shared by Safta and Augustin: the country idyll of Poiana, a “place that light passed through“, and the austere desolation of postwar Iasi with its “used-up sky“, where property has been reallocated and several families now live cramped together with minimal privacy. There is also the chaos and internment camps of the war.
It is a challenge for any writer to conjure the world of the wordless through words and in this Harding triumphantly succeeds, exploring through her mute protagonist profound questions of identity and attachment, of the inadequacy of language and the baffling inconsistencies of humankind.
My rating 4 out of 5
Body count: 2 humans, 1 horse and a hen