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The Devil is Clever: A Memoir of My Romanian Mother

by Kenneth Radu

Kenneth Radu’s poetic manipulation of fact starts with the title of his disturbing memoir. Though she spoke more Romanian than English throughout her life, Annie Corches was born near Fort Qu’Appelle, in Canada’s oldest Romanian Orthodox community. “I have heard it said that her Romanian was both fluent and musical; angels would weep to hear. A
peculiar allusion,” Radu writes. You can take downtrodden peasants out of the Transylvanian woods and transplant them to the Canadian prairie, but the millennia of misery that drives a family to a completely foreign land may take generations to escape.

Radu acknowledges the universality of his family’s immigrant experience among non-aboriginal Canadians. Dysart, Saskatchewan, represents the many ethnic enclaves that assimilated into mainstream Canadian culture as their children were educated in the British-based public education system. Those who, like Annie, were kept out of school to labour at home, stuck to old-world ways like mud in the tread of a boot.

The facts of Annie’s childhood are positively Dickensian. The fifth child of illiterate European peasants, born in a sod hut, she lost her mother as an infant and was orphaned at seven. She was separated from her siblings and fostered out by an unloving stepmother to an aunt whose brutality and exploitation bordered on sadism. Yet Radu is too keen an analyst of human foible to allow his memoir to wallow in saccharine, even as it drips with filial love. He describes the young Annie as self-conscious, shy, resourceful, sly, and even on occasion brave but, most often, Radu comments upon his mother’s solipsistic self-pity. Recipes for traditional Romanian dishes also punctuate The Devil Is Clever, and its narrative reaches a crescendo as aunt Sophie literally beats Annie senseless while teaching her how to make delicate placinta pastry.

Dysart’s Romanian community was notorious for clinging to its old world prejudices, yet Annie’s personal suffering taught her the value of tolerance. It is this achievement that her proud son celebrates above all others.


Reviewer: Deirdre Hanna

Publisher: HarperFlamingo Canada


Price: $32.95

Page Count: 280 pp

Format: Cloth

ISBN: 0-00-200650-2

Released: Apr.

Issue Date: 2004-2

Categories: Memoir & Biography

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