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The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Novelby Wayne Johnston
Synopses & Reviews
I begged my way off the court beat after a few months. I convinced the publisher of the Telegram, who each year purchased several berths on the S.S. Newfoundland and sold them to sealers in exchange for a percentage of their share, to let me have a berth so that I could write about what life was like on board a sealing ship. My publisher worked out an arrangement with the Newfoundland's captain, Westbury Kean, whereby I would file stories every day using the ship's telegrapher. Kean, saying he had no intention of being held responsible for anything that might happen to a boy who had never been off dry land in his life, said that I would not be allowed to go out on the ice but could watch the hunt from on board through binoculars. And he would read each day's story and convey it in person to the telegrapher to make sure nothing was published that reflected badly on him or his crew.
My family came out to see me off and to witness the annual blessing of the sealing fleet by clergy of all denominations. Miss Garrigus was the only woman among them. As the clergy, their voices magnified by megaphones, prayed God to safeguard the officers and crew of the fleet and to reward them for their labour with a bountiful harvest, I stood, imitating the crew, in the rigging of the S.S. Newfoundland, though not as high up as most of them were. There must have been ten thousand people gathered down below, jammed to the water's edge to see the fleet, which filled the harbour. Even with the vessels moored nose in, there was not enough room at dockside for all of them, so the rest had to anchor in midharbour, facing every which way. The pilot boats scooted about trying to organize the fleet's departure.
When the blessing concluded, the crowd cheered, and from where we stood we waved our hats. The first of the sealing fleet followed the pilot boats. I watched from the rigging of the Newfoundland as the crowd ran en masse along the apron to join another crowd already gathered on the heights of Signal Hill, where they would watch the fleet make its way towards the ice floes of the northeast coast. As each sealing vessel cleared the Narrows, the noon-day gun on Signal Hill was fired, a blast that echoed back and forth between the north and south side of the city. And also, each of the ships, as it cleared the Narrows, unfurled its expansive sails and was suddenly transformed to white. There came up to me from below, mixed with the old smell of the bilge-water harbour, the new smell of diesel oil from the engines of the biggest steamships. Oil and coal and sail together could barely move these boats now when they were empty of everything but men and boys. They would come back weighted down to the gunners, inching along with their cargoes of seal pelts and whitecoats.
At an order from Captain Kean to hoist the sails, I climbed down from the rigging. The men of the Newfoundland pitched in, straining on the ropes, in some cases jumping and hanging in midair to make a sail unfurl. A light cold rain was falling but there was not much wind. Still, as the sails caught the breeze, the massive boom came swinging round and the men ducked expertly beneath it as a sealer who shouted Low on deck pulled me down beside him just in time. I looked up. The great soot-begrimed expanse of canvas flapped loudly overhead, black smoke billowed backwards from the stack b
Joey Smallwood, a privileged boy intent on making a name for himself, and Shelagh Fielding, a journalist who pens his rise to power, confront their own frailties, secrets, and mutual love, in an immensely rich and utterly involving novel of twentieth-century Newfoundland. Reprint. 40,000 first printing.
A mystery and a love story spanning five decades, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is an epic portrait of passion and ambition, set against the beautiful, brutal landscape of Newfoundland. In this widely acclaimed novel, Johnston has created two of the most memorable characters in recent fiction: Joey Smallwood, who claws his way up from poverty to become New Foundland's first premier; and Sheilagh Fielding, who renounces her father's wealth to become a popular columnist and writer, a gifted satirist who casts a haunting shadow on Smallwood's life and career.
The two meet as children at school and grow to realize that their lives are irreversibly intertwined, bound together by a secret they don't know they share. Smallwood, always on the make, torn between love of country and fear of failure, is as reluctant to trust the private truths of his heart as his rival and savior, Fielding--brilliant, hard-drinking, and unconventionally sexy. Their story ranges from small-town Newfoundland to New York City, from the harrowing ice floes of the seal hunt to the lavish drawing rooms of colonial governors, and combines erudition, comedy, and unflagging narrative brio in a manner reminiscent of John Irving and Charles Dickens. A tragicomic elegy for the "colony of unrequited dreams" that is Newfoundland, Wayne Johnston's masterful tribute to a people and a place establishes him as a novelist who is as profound as he is funny, with an impeccable sense of the intersection where private lives and history collide.
About the Author
Wayne Johnston is the author of four previous novels, including The Divine Ryans, which will be published as an Anchor paperback in August 1999; a film adaptation starring Pete Postlethwaite will be released that fall. The Colony of Unrequited Dreams was nominated for the Giller Prize and the Governor General's Award in Canada. Born and raised in Newfoundland, Johnston now lives in Toronto.
From the Hardcover edition.
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