The Colony of Unrequited Dreams


by Wayne Johnston (Doubleday)


(This column first appeared in the July 24, 2003 issue of ArtVoice of Buffalo.)


Newfoundland is the easternmost Canadian province. It is about the same size as New York State but its population is about one-fortieth of ours. A largely undeveloped land with its major industry, fishing, in terrible shape, its unemployment rate is almost twenty percent. Bad times now, but what about the past? Wayne Johnston's historical novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, informs us that life was rarely good there. By balancing the largely deprived progress of politician Joseph Smallwood who finally became the province's premier and against that of a fictional newspaper reporter, Sheilagh Fielding, he tells us much of the early-20th century history of an English colony that only joined the Canadian confederation in 1948. This book was well received in Canada and considered for a number of awards there, but I found reading about Smallwood an almost morbid experience. While I felt sorry for this man who, despite his union leadership, spent most of his life in the depths of poverty, I found him one of the weakest protagonists I have ever met in my reading of history. But I still recommend the book. Don't read or simply scan the text about Smallwood; focus your attention instead on the wonderful interleaved commentaries entitled, Fielding's Condensed History of Newfoundland. They'll give you a far better sense of the province's sad story, but in a satirical and often very funny form.-- Gerry Rising