The Colony of Unrequited Dreams 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”.
Smallwood, born in 1900, is the first of thirteen children raised from the ‘scruff’ of Newfoundland, as opposed to the ‘quality’. Smallwood 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.' 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 is the Dorothy Parker-like figure of his lifelong friend, Sheilagh Fielding. Fielding becomes an acerbic newspaper columnist, a hard drinker with a sharp tongue who shares a strange love-hate relationship with Smallwood.
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.
WAYNE JOHNSTON was born and raised in Goulds, Newfoundland. Widely acclaimed for his magical weaving of fact and fiction, his masterful plotting, and his gift for both description and character, his #1 nationally bestselling novels include The Divine Ryans, A World Elsewhere, The Custodian of Paradise, The Navigator of New York and The Colony of Unrequited Dreams. His first book, The Story of Bobby O'Malley, published when he was just 26 years old, won the WH Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award. Baltimore's Mansion (1999), a memoir about his father and grandfather, won the inaugural Charles Taylor Prize for literary non-fiction. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, published in 1998, was nominated for sixteen national and international awards including the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General's Literary Award for Fiction, and was a Canada Reads finalist defended by Justin Trudeau. A theatrical adaptation of the novel recently toured Canada. Johnston's most recent novel, First Snow, Last Light, was a national bestseller and longlisted for the IMPAC Dublin prize.
"It may be the Great American Novel, except it happens to be about Newfoundland."
—Calvin Trillin, The Globe and Mail
"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."
"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 is vivid and sharp."
—E. Annie Proulx, author of The Shipping News
"A classic historical novel... deeply felt and powerfully imagined [that] will make a permanent mark on our literature."
—The Toronto Star