By: Grant Buday
Format/Source: Paperback; my purchase
Vancouver, summer 1962. Cyril Andrachuk and Connie Chow are seventeen and in love.
Cyril is the only Canadian-born member of the Andrachuk family, his parents and older brother having survived Stalin’s systematic starving of the Ukraine. His brother’s brittle bones are not the only legacy of Stalin. Cyril’s famine-free childhood has built up a distance between him and the rest of the household.
His family’s past charges Cyril’s present with bitter overtones he barely understands and Cyril’s love of art is beyond his family’s comprehension; Cyril is destined to be a working man, not a working artist.
In this house built on the edge of a cemetery, where his mother reviews the burials over her morning tea, creativity and joy are suspect. Mourning the early death of his father, Cyril finds solace in lovingly drawing his father’s metal-working tools and in his happiness with Connie. But his family’s resentment sows the seeds of betrayal, and Cyril must find a way to live with his family’s past in order to find his future.
Art, love, and history furnish the setting in this tale. The Delusionist is a novel of longing, loss and rediscovered joy.
I discovered this author as I was browsing the marketplace at the Toronto International Book Fair in November. I’m always on the lookout for Canadian authors to read and lo and behold I came across this book. It was the cover that caught my attention first–what is Stalin doing on the cover?–which prompted me to pick up the book. The premise includes some interesting features of Canada–namely our multiculturalism–and the story in general interested me so I picked it up.
The story really caught my attention from the first chapter. It was interesting to follow Cyril over the course of four decades as he navigates through his life and his creativity and his family and all of the emotions tied in with everything in his life. I really felt sorry for Cyril; from the first chapter it’s clear that he feels like an outsider from his own family, his interactions with his mother and brother often tense and awkward. It informs some of his actions and his behaviour as he seems adrift somehow. It’s very much a coming-of-age story as the reader watches Cyril grow up, endure loss, hardship, and general confusion, and ultimately comes to some understanding about his family and his relationship to them.
The other characters that populate this novel were also interesting, from love of his life Connie who weaves in and out of his life, to his long relationship with Gilbert. As frustrating as his mother and brother were in their behaviour towards him, they were interesting in their own way and were never at any point a caricature or a one-note. The Holodomor in Ukraine in the 1930s very much informs their characters and what they survived, and their nationalism was interesting to follow especially when they encounter other Eastern Europeans like the Hungarian artist teacher Novak.
Overall I really enjoyed reading The Delusionist and following Cyril’s ups and downs. One would think that Cyril perhaps lived a rather mundane life–never really advanced in life (prospects-wise), sort of moved forward with his art rather late–but he’s had some adventures (i.e. his time in Mexico) and held some different jobs (even as one ended with an arrest). The novel has a great sense of time and place as the story goes through the decades, and of course the bits of Canadian-ness shines with its sense of multiculturalism. I highly recommend checking out this book if you’re looking to read some Canadian and indie fiction.