Georgina Harding’s new novel, shortlisted for the Orange Prize for Fiction, is set in 1950s Romania as the country emerges from war and communism tightens its grip. The story begins in the city of Iaşi, when an unnamed man arrives at the railway station. It is his first trip beyond the countryside of Poiana, where, we discover, he was the illegitimate son of a servant in a large country house owned by a wealthy family. The world he leaves behind is essentially feudal, though in her evocation of his childhood Harding shows how children can live with scant regard for the caste system of their elders.
The man’s first impressions of Iaşi are captured with what quickly becomes the hallmark of Harding’s writing in this book: an understated, suggestive precision that manages to convey not just the visual aspects of the place, but the deeper and more numinous feelings that are attached to them. Harding lends