Painter of Silence, Georgina Harding's third novel -- recently shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction -- is set in Romania in the early fifties and tells the story of Augustin, a deaf and mute man found frail and very ill on the steps of a hospital by nurse Safta. The dreamy tale explores their relationship within the backdrop of a world devastated by the Second World War and the arrival of Stalinism. Crane.tv visits the author at her farm in Stour Valley, Essex to find out about the inspirations behind the book and her special relationship with Romania.
Harding has lived the past 20 years on a farm, escaping to London for half of the week. Witnessing her feeding chickens in this idyllic, peaceful environment, you would not necessarily imagine that this novelst has been a great adventurer all her life. Before writing novels, she worked as a freelancer in publishing, spending the rest of her time travelling, arousing a fascination in Eastern Europe.
A special relationship with Romania started in 1988 when she first explored the country by motorbike. "I didn't know what to expect. No journalist had been there, we didn't know what a terrible place it was, or what was going on." Despite visiting during the worse period of the Ceausescu regime, she ended up falling in love with the country, seduced by the beauty of the landscape and the people's hospitality. Writing about this in her travel book In Another Europe - and has been back every few years since.
Romania also inspired the author for her third novel, "Painter of Silence." She says, "I realised there was a period just before the Second World War. You had a historical move from near feudalism into a sort of Stalinist Communism, and it was a very intense, tragic, and interesting time. So I wanted to write that story." After choosing the historical period for her new fiction, a hero was created: Augustin, born deaf and without ever acquiring any form of speech -- only an incredible ability to draw. His ability to communicate to the world through drawings and paintings, is similar to Georgina's relationship with Romania. "I love Romania very much, but I'm very much an outsider there. He was an ideal way for me to go to Romania through an outsider's eyes."
Text by Paul Rappaport for Crane.tv
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