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The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Novel Paperback – May 2, 2000

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

In 1949, Joseph Smallwood became the first premier of the newly federated Canadian province of Newfoundland. Predictably, and almost immediately, his name retreated to the footnotes of history. And yet, as Wayne Johnston makes plain in his epic and affectionate fifth novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Smallwood's life was endearingly emblematic, an instance of an extraordinary man emerging at a propitious moment. The particular charm of Johnston's book, however, lies not merely in unveiling a career that so seamlessly coincided with the burgeoning self-consciousness of Newfoundland itself, but in exposing a simple truth--namely, that history is no more than the accretion of lived lives.

Born into debilitating poverty, Smallwood is sustained by a bottomless faith in his own industry. His unabashed ambition is to "rise not from rags to riches, but from obscurity to world renown." To this end, he undertakes tasks both sublime and baffling--walking 700 miles along a Newfoundland railroad line in a self-martyring union drive; narrating a homespun radio spot; and endlessly irritating and ingratiating himself with the Newfoundland political machine. His opaque and constant incitement is an unconsummated love for his childhood friend, Sheilagh Fielding. Headstrong and dissolute, she weaves in and out of Smallwood's life like a salaried goad, alternately frustrating and illuminating his ambitions. Smallwood is harried as well by Newfoundland's subtle gravity, a sense that he can never escape the tug of his native land, since his only certainty is the island itself--that "massive assertion of land, sea's end, the outer limit of all the water in the world, a great, looming, sky-obliterating chunk of rock."

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams bogs down after a time in its detailing of Smallwood's many political intrigues and in the lingering matter of a mysterious letter supposedly written by Fielding. However, when he speculates on the secret motives of his peers, or when he reveals his own hyperbolic fantasies and grandiose hopes--matters no one would ever confess aloud--the novel is both apt and amiable. Best of all is to watch Smallwood's inevitable progress toward a practical cynicism. It seems nothing less than miraculous that his countless disappointments pave the way for his ascension, that his private travails ultimately align with the land he loves. This is history resuscitated. --Ben Guterson --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

"As lived our fathers, we live not,/Where once they knelt, we stand./With neither God nor King to guard our lot, We'll guard thee, Newfoundland": so rings the resigned, ironic patriotism practiced by the inhabitants of the bitter-cold northerly territory in Johnston's (Human Amusements) grand and operatic novel, a bestseller and literary prize nominee in Canada. Treating the history of Newfoundland as a bad jokeAwhose punch line is finally delivered on April 1, 1949, when the in-limbo British territory joins in confederation with CanadaAJohnston's most compelling character (in a book that teems with eccentrics, drunks, swindlers and snobs), Sheilagh Fielding, writes a condensed version of the classic History of Newfoundland. The terse and mordant chapters of this masterwork, to which she devotes all her energies (when not scribbling furiously in her epistolary diary or eking out the columns of her daily political satire, "Field Day") are interleaved in the narrative to great effect. The bulk of the book comprises the autobiographical musings of historical figure Joe Smallwood, whose rise through local socialist activism to international political eminence culminates in his orchestration of the treaty with Canada. It is dwarf-sized Smallwood's tireless ambition, as well as his crippling romantic insecurity, that keep him forever at arm's length from his childhood love and best friend Fielding. In their hometown of St. John's, in Manhattan's downtown tenements, in the desolate railroad man's cabin where Fielding holes up with a typewriter and a bottle of Scotch, Smallwood and Fielding torment and intrigue one another, each harboring the shame and fury of a secret from their school days that has gone unresolved. In a book of this magnitude and inventivenessAsome of Fielding's quips are hilarious, and Johnston proves himself cunning at manipulating and animating historical factAit is perhaps the device of this lifelong secret that most tests the reader's faith: that full disclosure resolves all the complicated mysteries of this book is slightly disappointing. Nonetheless, the variety provided by Fielding's writings is delightful, and this brilliantly clever evocation of a slice of Canadian history establishes Johnston as a writer of vast abilities and appeal. BOMC and QPB selections; author tour. (July) FYI: Johnston's comic novel, The Divine Ryans (not published in the U.S.), will be released by Anchor in August to coincide with the film version, starring Pete Postlethwaite.
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Anchor (May 2, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0385495439
  • ISBN-13: 978-0385495431
  • Product Dimensions: 5.2 x 1 x 8.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (56 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #689,068 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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52 of 54 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 17, 1999
Format: Paperback
I have had the good fortune to live and travel in Newfoundland, so I was excited to read Wayne Johnson's unforgettable book, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. I loved the book for its amazing characters and its haunting landscapes. I was particularly fascinated with Smallwood and Fielding, and find myself wanting to know much more about the real life and history of Joey Smallwood. I grew up in Nova Scotia and knew of Smallwood only as some mythical person, the Only Living Father of Confederation, who dragged Newfoundland kicking and screaming into Canada. This book gave me a sense of the real man behind the myth, and Smallwood is as unforgettable as his province. Even though I lived at one time in a remote outport on White Bay, I never fully understood the outporter's perspective on Canada until I read this book. The book is beautifully sad and desperate, but it is also hilarious in places. It holds its own with other recent books I have read about this special place: Howard Norman's The Bird Artist and E. Annie Proulx's The Shipping News. For the reader interested in reading more about Newfoundland, I would recommend Ray Guy's humorous You May Know Them As Sea Urchins, Ma'am and Claire Mowat's The Outport People. My all time favorite Newfoundland book remains Cassie Brown's Standing into Danger. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams portrays the generosity and courage of the ordinary Newfoundlander, but Standing into Danger captures the spirit of a people who have nothing and who are willing to give everything.
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24 of 25 people found the following review helpful By michael t hearn on February 5, 2000
Format: Paperback
"The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams" is unquestionably Wayne Johnston's breakthrough book. The author of four previous works, none of which I am familiar with, breaks ground with a book he is sure to be remembered for. Despite its strong echoes of Dickens and/or John Irving, Mr. Fielding finds his voice early on in the contrasting narrative voices of Sheilagh Fielding and the adventures of Joseph Smallwood, sometimes separately, sometimes simultaneously, in the most unlikely setting imaginable--Newfoundland. Indeed, when I picked up 'Colony,' I questioned just how interesting such a setting could be. Well, style and characterization triumph over geographic unfamiliarity, in a work of mystery, history and social change. The very last sentence written by Fielding is a real heart wringer. In fact, I was sorry to have 'Colony' end; it was that rare experience, a book I wished had gone on, one I know I will re-read in a few years to savor Johnston's narrative technique. I look forward to his follow up from here; his is a voice I want to hear more of.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on February 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
All I can say is that...it is Newfoundland's voice, it is Canada and it is brilliant. I found Ms. Fielding to be the most memorable, realistic and engaging character I have encountered in the last year of reading. In some ways Dickension but with a true Canadian voice. Thrilling to find a female character who is quirky, demanding, complex and bloody funny. Nice change eh kids?
Mr. Smallwood our beloved past Premiere of Newfoundland, is the everyman..that is if everyman is a myopic, driven political animal. Fortunately they are a rare, if necessary breed. Joey Smallwood was our sacrifice.
I would recommend this book to anyone I know who loves reading. This is the book to cuddle up to while the wind rages and your life howls. One could expect no less from a life on the Rock. (Newfoundland for the outsiders)
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Stone Junction on September 17, 2000
Format: Paperback
Perhaps I'm a little bit biased towards this novelization of the life of Joey Smallwood. No, I'm not from Newfoundland. No, I'm not a historical fiction buff. No, my name's not Joey.
But as I read along, a sneaking suspicion entered my mind. I did a little bit a family research, and it turns out that I am distantly related to the character of Prowse, who could be loosely described as Smallwood's arch-enemy. Admittedly, it is a tenuous relation (three generations by marriage), but still, very cool. And of course, it helps that the novel is one of astonishing quality.
COLONY tells of the slow rise of Joey Smallwood, from his very humble beginnings to his eventual election as Newfoundland's first premier. Now, I don't know anything about the history of Newfoundland. I don't believe the book is meant to be a technically accurate representation of Smallwood's life. This is not a biography.
What COLONY is, is a vastly entertaining look at the twists and turns that can occur in the life of one man. As in John Irving's best novels ( I kept thinking of THE CIDER HOUSE RULES as I read along), COLONY is an epic view of a tiny subject. As Smallwood's life progresses, the story becomes more and more enriched with characters and themes and regrets and promises. What Smallwood does with his life is miraculous, and sometimes awe-inspiring. I don't mean to imply that Smallwood is a saint. But his flaws and delusions only serve to heighten his triumphs and failures.
As I said, I don't know how much of COLONY is factually true. Did he have an ongoing unrequited love affair with his childhood friend and nemesis Fielding? Are the motivations behind his actions accurate? In the end, it doesn't matter. This isn't meant to be a treatise on the political background of a premier. This is a story, and a damned fine one. And it is obvious after reading it why, for all his mistakes, Joey Smallwood is a widely beloved figure in Newfoundland.
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