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Clutching her small biscuit tin of food, her face almost hidden behind her kerchief, 15-year-old Annie Corches stepped onto the train that would carry her away from Dysart, Saskatchewan, far from the cruel and abusive aunt who was destroying her body and soul. Like her immigrant Romanian parents who arrived in Canada in 1909, Annie was terrified of what lay ahead, but even more so of what lay behind.

Annie is Kenneth Radu’s mother. The Devil Is Clever is Annie’s memoir, told through Radu’s evocative voice, an account that sings like a work of fiction, yet is at the same time remarkable for its unvarnished look at a life of strife, courage, and hope.

When Annie lost her mother, her father quickly remarried, and Annie’s overworked and emotionally distant stepmother hardly had time to nurture a little girl. Yet Annie was close to her older sister, Tenka, who became a surrogate mother. It was only when their father died and Annie was torn from her siblings that her childhood began to crumble. Sent to live with an abusive aunt, she took comfort in her rich heritage.

Radu, in a narrative full of the wondrous aromas and recipes of Romanian cooking, draws vivid pictures of savory sarmale (cabbage rolls) and buttery sweet placinta (strudel), pleasures with which Annie defended herself against her aunt’s savagery.

The Devil Is Clever is a powerful account of prairie life between the two World Wars, of immigrant dreams, and the triumph of hope over hardship. Its indelible portrait of a woman whose search for love and acceptance never wavers confirms Kenneth Radu’s prodigious gift for storytelling.

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