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Sapergia, Barbara.

Moose Jaw, Coteau Books, c1984. 302pp, paper, $4.95, ISBN 0-919926-35-5. Distributed by Thunder Creek Publishing Co-operative. CIP

Grades 10 and up
Reviewed by George Hoffman

Volume 13 Number 2
1985 March

As I began to read this book, I hopefully recalled John Marlyn's little known, and much underrated, novel about an immigrant family in Winnipeg: Under the Ribs of Death (McClelland and Stewart, 1957). Unfortunately the two novels do not compare.

Foreigners, by Barbara Sapergia, tells of a Romanian immigrant family in the badlands of southern Saskatchewan, before the First World War. The fact that a Romanian settlement existed in that area, and that villages like Spring Valley and Kayville are referred to, gives the novel an historical perspective. The story shows clearly (if anyone still needs to be convinced) that the pioneer west was no earthly paradise, into which thousands of poverty-stricken European peasants came and lived happily ever after. Sapergia shows some understanding and feeling for the continued poverty, bewilderment, and prejudice these immigrants experienced.

But there is much more to criticize than to praise. Foreigners is a seriously-flawed novel. It is contrived and not believable. Stefan Dominescu, his wife Sofie, and their children, experience an absolutely amazing series of events. Their youngest son dies as a result of a doctor's negligence in performing a tonsillectomy; Sofia gives birth to quadruplets, three of whom immediately die; the daughter chooses between two equally-deserving young men who love her and marries; the son has a passionate relationship with the beautiful young daughter of the family's hated, rich, English-speaking landlord (they also marry). Stefan and his family are despised and badly treated by everyone who is not Romanian, except for Chan, the Chinese store owner, and a Jew named Israel, and of course the beautiful young daughter of the rich landlord. And all of this occurs in the novel within two years.

The setting has potential, but a serious and meaningful novel about the immigrant experience in Saskatchewan remains to be written.

George Hoffman, Weyburn, C.S., Weybum, Sask.
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