Format: Trade Paperback
Dimensions: 608 pages, 7.99 × 5.15 × 1.3 in
Published: September 8, 1999
Publisher: Knopf Canada
The following ISBNs are associated with this title:
ISBN - 10: 0676972152
ISBN - 13: 9780676972153
Read from the Book
Besides what little clothing I had, I didn''t bring much with me except my oilcloth map of Newfoundland, a fishermen''s union pullover with its codfish-emblazoned badge, which I planned to wear while working at the Call, and my father''s History of Newfoundland. My parents and brothers and sisters went with me to the railway station to say goodbye, and though they made quite a fuss, especially my mother and the girls (my father and the boys manfully shook hands with me and clapped me on the back), they were upstaged by the entire Jewish community of St. John''s, about whom I had written a laudatory feature in the Telegram two months before and who were surreally on hand to see me off, waving their black hats and weeping as if one of their number was leaving them for good. Because of them and because of my oversized nose, many of my fellow passengers took me to be Jewish, a misconception I did nothing to discourage, since it made them less likely to sit with me, not because they had anything against the Jews, but simply because they doubted they could sustain a conversation for long with so exotic an individual. Normally, there is nothing I would rather do than talk, and I knew if I got started I might well talk all the way from St. John''s to Port aux Basques, oblivious to the landscape we were passing through. I would, many times in the future, spend cross-country train trips in just that manner, staying awake twenty-eight hours at a stretch, hardly noticing when one exhaust
From the Publisher
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, a Canadian bestseller, is a novel about Newfoundland that centres on the story of Joe Smallwood, the true-life controversial political figure who ushered the island through confederation with Canada and became its first premier. Narrated from Smallwood''s perspective, it voices a deep longing on the part of the Newfoundlander to do something significant, “commensurate with the greatness of the land itself”. The New York Times said, “this prodigious, eventful, character-rich book is a noteworthy achievement: a biting, entertaining and inventive saga.... a brilliant and bravura literary performance”.
Smallwood, born in 1900, is the first of thirteen children raised from the ‘scruff’ of Newfoundland, as opposed to the ‘quality’. The colony is seen as an unworthy and negligible place: as his teacher from England says, “The worst of our lot comes over here, inbreeds for several hundred years and the end-product is a hundred thousand Newfoundlanders with Smallwood at the bottom of the barrel.”
Smallwood, who still weighs only 75 pounds at the age of 20, seems an unlikely hero to fulfil what he sees as his mission: to transform the ‘old lost land’, with its lack of identity, into ‘the new found land’; and meanwhile to rise “not from rags to riches, but from obscurity to world renown.” With perseverance and determination, he sets about the task, becoming a journalist for a socialist newspaper in New York and then a union leader, at one point walking the 700-mile railway track across the island to sell memberships to the section-men living in shacks. He sees beyond his unpromising background, the cold and unrelenting hardship and isolation, envisioning a proud and great destiny. Eventually, a politician full of wild moneymaking schemes, he is swept into a world of intrigues and the machinations of the power elite, just as Newfoundland must decide whether to become an independent country or to join Canada.
In counterpoint to the earnest endeavours of Smallwood, champion of the poor and the workers, is the Dorothy Parker-like figure of his lifelong friend, Sheilagh Fielding. Their paths first cross at the private school from which Smallwood is expelled, falsely accused of writing a letter critical of the school, and thenceforth their lives are inextricably intertwined. Fielding becomes an acerbic newspaper columnist, a hard drinker with a sharp tongue who shares a strange love-hate relationship with Smallwood. Her cynical columns and personal journals are interspersed among Smallwood’s account, along with her irreverent and satirical Condensed History of Newfoundland.
In writing a work of the imagination in part inspired by historical events, Johnston wanted “to fashion out of the formless infinitude of ‘facts’…a work of art that would express a felt, emotional truth... Adherence to the ‘facts’ will not lead you safely through the labyrinthine pathways of the human heart.” Johnston was 19 when he met the real Joe Smallwood; he was just starting out as a journalist, and Smallwood was less than complimentary about Johnston’s reporting. Although the politician died only in 1991, little was written about his life before the age of fifty, allowing Johnston some license to imagine his formative influences.
“I wanted to write a big book about Newfoundland in scope and in vision. I couldn''t think of a bigger character whose life touched on more themes, involved the whole of Newfoundland more completely than Smallwood did.” Smallwood saw Newfoundland in terms of “unrealized talent and unfulfilled ambition”; his life was somehow emblematic of the land. Moreover, says Johnston, “He was so prone to making mistakes and so fallible, and he combines so many contradictions in his personality. His quest, like that of many great literary figures of the past century, is to overcome these divisions.” The completely invented character of Fielding, meanwhile, “is like me”, says Johnston. “I share her view of Newfoundland.”
The title of the book, Johnston says, evokes “the nostalgia Newfoundlanders have felt for the possibilities of the island, and that they still have for the future. Joe is always searching for something commensurate with the greatness of the land itself, but he can''t find it, and it''s driving him mad…Newfoundland is that kind of place. It makes you want to live up to the landscape, but on the other hand it offers you no resources to do so. There''s always this constant yearning that at least for my part helped me to start writing.”
Smallwood’s chronicle of his development from poor schoolboy to Father of the Confederation is a story full of epic journeys and thwarted loves, travelling from the ice floes of the seal hunt to New York City, in a style reminiscent at times of John Irving, Robertson Davies and Charles Dickens. Absorbing and entertaining, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams provides us with a deep perspective on the relationship between private lives and what comes to be understood as history and shows, as E. Annie Proulx commented, “Wayne Johnston is a brilliant and accomplished writer.”
About the Author
Wayne Johnston was born and raised in the St. John''s area of Newfoundland. His #1 nationally bestselling novels include The Custodian of Paradise, The Navigator of New York and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, which was an international bestseller and will be made into a film. Johnston is also the author of an award-winning and bestselling memoir, Baltimore''s Mansion. He lives in Toronto.
From Our Editors
Joe Smallwood has defied all the odds, clawing his way up from obscurity to become Newfoundland’s first premier. His only problem is Sheilagh Fielding, a popular newspaper columnist and gifted satirist who casts a haunting shadow over Smallwood’s life and career. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is both a mystery -- and a love story --spanning five decades.
"It may be the Great American Novel, except it happens to be about Newfoundland." —Calvin Trillin, The Globe and Mail , 2002 "My big fiction treat this year." —Ann-Marie MacDonald, National Post "As absorbing as fiction can be — and [from] one of our continent''s best writers." — Kirkus Reviews "The scope of The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is vast, its humour is quiet and assured, its mixture of fact and fiction is altogether bracing, and its writing is about as beautiful and as imaginative as writing gets these days." —David Macfarlane, The Globe and Mail "A masterpiece — Mr. Johnston has a genius in him — and a haunting, unmitigated, uncanny vision and grace." —Howard Norman, author of The Museum Guard and The Bird Artist "This splendid, entertaining novel is both a version of David Copperfield transposed to 20th-century Newfoundland, and an evocation of vanished ways of life.... Rich and complex, it offers Dickensian pleasures." —Andrea Barrett, author of Ship Fever and The Voyage of the Narwhal "A spellbinding, must-read tale.... Johnston''s authentic sense of place, history and romance are woven into a magical tapestry." — Winnipeg Free Press "Wayne Johnston is a brilliant and accomplished writer and his Newfoundland — boots and boats, rough politics and rough country, history and journalism — during the wild Smallwood years i
1. The New York Times said Newfoundland asserts itself as a setting in the novel “to the point of claiming a character role”; also that “the profound but…doomed love between [Fielding] and Smallwood is the novel’s heart and soul”. To what extent do you think the novel is about Smallwood and Fielding, and to what extent is it about Newfoundland?
2. How do Fielding and Smallwood’s views of Newfoundland differ?
3. “There is no reason for us to be so much in the thrall of our historical figures that we cannot suspend our disbelief when writers of fiction ring variations on their lives,” wrote Johnston in The Globe and Mail, after a journalist complained that Joey Smallwood was too much “within reach of memory” to be a fit subject for a novel. How might a reader’s knowledge (or lack of knowledge) about the real Joey Smallwood affect the reading of the novel?
4. Can you compare The Colony of Unrequited Dreams to another novel of Newfoundland — or to a novel by John Irving or Charles Dickens?