Romania under Communist tyranny is the setting for Georgina Harding’s novel of subtle pathos, showing the transformation of society as seen through the eyes of a deaf-mute artist, Augustin. The story, which takes place in 1950s Romania, is moved along by flashbacks to the days before Communism. Augustin, born to a servant girl on the lavish estate of a privileged family in the decades between World War I and World War II, bonds from infancy with Safta, the daughter of the family. As the two grow up side by side, a deep friendship is forged that will endure in the face of loss and tragedy.
The happiness of Augustin’s and Safta’s childhood stands in stark contrast to life in the bleak totalitarian regime. A single tragic decision on Safta’s part seems to mark the end of her tranquil country life as war overtakes Europe. The author deftly weaves together the points of view of Augustin, Safta, and other characters, as the summers of old Romania are swallowed by the winter of Stalin’s regime. Augustin captures the history of the family and of his country in his art, using images which say what words cannot express. The novel, written in hauntingly expressive prose, shows how the Communist regime sought to strip individuals not only of their private property but also of their families, their beliefs, their dignity, and their very souls.
(*NOTE: This book was sent to me by The Historical Novel Society in exchange for my honest opinion.)