BOOK REVIEW: Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding

Painter of Silence by Georgina HardingPainter of Silence
By Georgina Harding
Completed May 19, 2012

Set against the backdrop of pre- and post-World War II Romania, Painter of Silence is the story of two childhood friends, Safta and Augustin. Safta is the daughter of wealthy Romanian landowners and becomes a nurse during World War II. Augustin is the son of cook who works at Safta’s manor; he is deaf and mute, but the two share a communication that transcend speech and hearing.

The story opens with Augustin arriving in Iasi, looking for Safta. He manages to find the hospital where she works and crumbles on its doorstep. Augustin is very ill, and he is rushed inside the hospital for care. Safta learns that a deaf and mute man has been admitted, and her suspicions are confirmed – it is her long lost friend.

The story then goes back and forth between Augustin’s recovery, and memories of Safta and Augustin’s childhood. Augustin communicates through drawing pictures, and Safta gives him paper and pencils so he can tell what happened to him after the war started. Slowly, Harding paints a picture, through Augustin, of how World War II and the arrival of communism affected Romania. In a span of a few years, Romania went through great upheaval, affecting the lives of every citizen – rich and poor.

Painter of Silence starts slowly, working steadily through small crescendos until the reader learns the full histories of Augustin and Safta. The last 100 pages are captivating, and the ending has a small twist that ties a few loose ends. It was a cerebral story, and comparisons to the writing style of Michael Ondaatje are spot on. There is strength in silence, and the quiet aspect of Painter of Silence makes it a novel not easily forgotten. I recommend Painter of Silence to fans of literary fiction and the Orange Prize. (  )

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BOOK REVIEW: No One Is Here Except All Of Us by Ramona Ausubel

No One Is Here Except All Of Us by Ramona AusubelNo One Is Here Except All Of Us
By Ramona Ausubel
Completed February 3, 2012

In a small village in Romania, a group of Jewish residents lived in relative harmony. Their village was on a small peninsula where a tiny strip of land connected it to the mainland. One evening, as they gathered for prayer, they witnessed a plane bomb the other side of the mountain. War had finally arrived in their corner of Romania. Bewildered, they weren’t sure what to do. They had read newspapers and heard radio reports about Jews being rounded up and sent to camps. Fearing the same fate, the village listened to the voice of a 11-year-old girl, Lena, who suggested they just start over – to wake up the next day to a new world. And for more than three years, this tactic successfully protected them from the atrocities of World War II.

It takes a tremendous suspension of belief to read No One Is Here Except All Of Us. You, as the reader, must commit to the characters’ idea that the village was reborn into a new world. Families were switched around, time was of no consequence and the village managed to stay self-sufficient and untouched until almost the end of the war. Thankfully, Ausubel is a gifted writer with a knack for creating realistic characters, especially the story’s main character, Lena. Most of the story is told from Lena’s perspective – a young woman who endures more than one should.

Admittedly, I had an easier time reading the novel once the village had to break out of its safe cocoon, though I was saddened that their experiment couldn’t protect them any longer. When the villagers realized the war had arrived at their doorstep, my heart broke for each person.

No One Is Here Except For All Of Us will not be for every reader. It has a poetic feel with simple storytelling that may annoy readers. True realists should stay away from this book completely. But for some of you – the dreamers, the imagineers – this book will works its magic. To you, I recommend No One Is Here Except For All Of Us unreservedly.  (  )

This review was written for LibraryThing Early Reviewers.

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