It is the early 1950s. A nameless man is found on the steps of the hospital in Iasi, Romania. He is deaf and mute, but a young nurse named Safta recognizes him from the past and brings him paper and pencils so that he might draw. Gradually, memories appear on the page: the man is Augustin, the cook's son at the manor house at Poiana where Safta was the privileged daughter. Born six months apart, they had a connection that bypassed words, but while Augustin's world stayed the same size, Safta's expanded to embrace languages, society, and a fleeting love one long, hot summer. But then came war, and in its wake a brutal Stalinist regime, and nothing would remain the same.
Georgina Harding's kaleidoscopic new novel will appeal to readers of Anne Michaels, Michael Ondaatje, and Sandor Marai. It is as intense and submerging as rain, as steeped in the horrors of our recent history as it is in the intimate passions of the human heart.
Harding's well-crafted new novel (after The Spy Game) is the touching tale of a deaf mute, a young nurse, and a brief love overshadowed by WWII. In the early 1950s, Safta discovers a man slumped on the steps of the hospital where she works, in the Romanian town of Iasi. Though he cannot hear or speak, she remembers him from their childhood together: Safta and her family once lived on a grand estate in Poiana before the war, and this man, Tinu, was the son of the cook. Despite their vastly different backgrounds, the two developed a deep friendship. In 1939, when Tinu and Safta are 16-years-old, an entrancing Romanian raised in France arrives at the manse and captures Safta's heart. Throughout the summer, Tinu silently observes Safta and Andrei's blossoming romance. But then war descends and changes everything. Now, reunited at the hospital, Safta and Tinu relive the past through Tinu's totemic drawings of the people and places his quiet presence has graced. Harding effortlessly alternates between pre- and post-WWII, and her expert pacing lends a moving solemnity to the proceedings.