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The Colony of Unrequited Dreams

(Newfoundland Trilogy #1)

3.94  ·  Rating details ·  6,518 ratings  ·  352 reviews
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 ...more
Paperback, 608 pages
Published September 7th 1999 by Vintage Books Canada (first published 1998)
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3.94  · 
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 ·  6,518 ratings  ·  352 reviews

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The embarrassing admission is that I am American. Why do I say that? Well, there are two answers. The first is that because I am American, I don't think I've ever seen a copy of this book during all my years of working in bookstores. I found it recently and I've heard people talking about it recently, so I thought it was a new book. Guys, this book has been on the planet since the late 90s. It hit bookshelves before I was working in bookstores, and I can say I never saw at the library I worked i ...more
Sep 24, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canada, reviewed
"We are a people in whose bodies old sea-seeking rivers roar with blood."

I had The Colony Of Unrequited Dreams on my Canada reading list. To be fair, the book was not high up on the list as my knowledge of and interest in Newfoundland was pretty non-existent. If I say my interest in Newfoundland was pretty low, imagine how eager I would have been to read a fictionalised biography of Joseph Smallwood, Newfoundland's first Premier and the politician to lead the Dominion of Newfoundland into the
Really 3.5.

For no reason my reading travels have taken me to many cold and desolate climates over the last year. It began in Iceland with Burial Rites. I visited Greenland in the unfinished This Cold Heaven: Seven Seasons in Greenland a follow-up to the The Voyage of the Narwhal in a which a fictional crew sets out in hopes of discovering what happened to John Franklin’s lost expedition in search of the Northwest Passage. I just finished this, a history of Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland’s first p
May 14, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Mixing a historically significant character with a fictitious one is an interesting conceit, especially if the fictitious one outshines the real guy.

Joey Smallwood, first premier of Newfounland post-confederation with Canada, is the real person, a kid from the sticks of St. John’s, whose father is an alcoholic and whose mother can’t stop having babies, who dreams big and seeks power, believing that one day he will be the premier of his country (yes, it was a country, a rather bankrupt one, befo
Gail Amendt
Jul 20, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The best work of historical fiction I have read in a long time. Based on history - that of Newfoundland's entry into Confederation and the architect of that event - Newfoundland's first premier, Joey Smallwood, this is still very much a work of fiction. I'm not sure how much of the Smallwood we read about is real, but he is certainly an engaging, complex and well developed character. His longtime friend/love/nemesis, Sheilagh Fielding is one of my favorite female characters of all time and I'm s ...more
John Hanson
Nov 15, 2011 rated it really liked it
I'm reviewing this novel with much trepidation and caution. My copy is signed by Mr. Johnston who I met at a reading this past November for his latest novel. He's a nice man and a great reader. He could be a stand-up comic, very dry, very patient with his story telling, and has a very good understanding of story at that. My caution comes from my own writing about Newfoundland, and I have to be very cautious for I am a Mainlander, not a native son.

I have a sense of what Newfoundland is about. I'
Seemed a bit derivative of Howard Norman (Sheilagh Fielding is a close sister to Margaret Handle in The Bird Artist, which was published a few years earlier). Although the writing is good—the author excels at description and character develpment—the story somehow doesn’t seem to justify the length (500-plus pages). That said, the interwoven pages from Fielding’s history of Newfoundland are an interesting device. Without them, there’d be less of a sense of place, which is essential for the story. ...more
Jan 27, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
While reading The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, and especially upon finishing it, I needed to know just how historically accurate the narrative was -- the Joey Smallwood of the book fit more or less with the bits I know about the actual first Premier of Newfoundland, but if the acid-penned, hilariously ironic Sheilagh Fielding did exist, I wanted to learn more about her. A google search led to this essay by the author, Wayne Johnston, and the following revelation:

The Colony of Unrequited Dream
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am typically a harsh critic of historical fiction (a crude subject heading that allows for the inclusion of fictionalized history) so it was both surprising and enchanting to discover in Wayne Johnston's The Colony of Unrequited Dreams a beautiful story tucked into a bed of "real" events and people. For those easily side-tracked by history, for those that read primarily to "better themselves," beware the temptation to think this is the story of Joey Smallwood just because he is the first-perso ...more
I loved this book. It was enthralling and informative, well written and funny. I know very little about the history of Newfoundland, it's the other end of the country and to be honest, from a cultural point of view, BC has more in common with Washington, Oregon and California than with the rest of Canada and I seldom think about what goes on out East.

While I realize much of this book is fictional, including one of the main characters, it fills in some very basic "how life was" in Newfoundland b
Before reading this, I could have written what I knew about the politics and history of Newfoundland on the back of a postage stamp. Joey Smallwood became the first premier of Newfoundland having successfully, though narrowly, fought a referendum to bring it into the Confederation of Canada in 1949.

Johnston’s book has won many plaudits and rightly so. My issue with it began when I discovered that one of the main characters, Sheila Fielding, is entirely fictional. She’s a great character and Joe
Ron Charles
Jan 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
As Hollywood forgot long ago, romance, terror, and wit are produced by restraint, not excess. What better place to test that rule than Newfoundland, whose ferocious weather inspires a great deal of restraint, indeed. The setting for Wayne Johnston's spectacular new novel, "The Colony of Unrequited Dreams," sometimes slows love and hate to glacial speed, but that only emphasizes the land's awesome power.

Johnston's epic tells the fictionalized life of Newfoundland's first premier, Joe Smallwood. B
Jul 27, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have had something of an interest in Newfoundland ever since an all-too-brief visit to The Rock back in the nineties, when I was bowled over by the landscapes and people. "The Colony of Unrequited Dreams" is a fictionalised biography of the life of Joey Smallwood, former premier of the Province and the man widely seen as the architect of its union with Canada in 1949. This novel is no plodding history-as-drama though. Smallwood is portrayed (perhaps accurately?)as a driven, ambitious character ...more
Badly Drawn Girl
Apr 22, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

The history of Newfoundland is not a subject I would ever think I would enjoy learning about. This brilliantly written book manages to sum up the history of that island in a truly fascinating way. I never felt like this book was dragging, even though it is very large and stuffed to the brim with information, facts, and observations. By following the life of the future first premier of the country, Wayne Johnston reels his readers in. Joe Smallwood is like the little engine that could, he just ke
Charles Henri
Apr 30, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
This book was highly recommended to me so I started with high expectations. But no matter how hard I tried, I could never really get into it. I should have abandoned it after a while but I kept reading through it, which took me a while to end it.

It's not that it is a bad book or anything. It is well written with great vocabulary. But it's the whole tone to it... I felt like the author wanted to write about Newfoundland itself and the book was just a pretence to get to do that. Half formal histo
I laughed, I gasped, I almost cried. Some books are like that. There are those that would have cheered for the storm to finish him off, but what a story we would have lost. Very much five stars.
Tracey the Bookworm
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: canadian
4.5 stars.
I knew next to nothing about Newfoundland before I read this well written book, but now I have an understanding of it's history, geography and people. One of the main characters is Joey Smallwood who was a real person; the main force that brought the Dominion of Newfoundland into the Confederation of Canada in 1949, and Newfoundland's first Premier. He worked throughout his life towards bettering the lot of the poor who lived in harsh living and working conditions. This is a book which
This is WHY I love to read CanLit — stories like these that make me proud of our country and teach me something I didn’t know. This 500+ page tome- it’s a long read - provides a perspective of Newfoundland that I was unaware of. From discovery to colony to Confederation - the emotions of the people, the stories of its tribe and good ole Joey Smallwood. It’s a fictional take on the true story of Smallwood and his Newfoundland adventure - political and otherwise.... I haven’t done the book justice ...more
This title fit the book very well.

I enjoyed the characters very much and felt that Fielding was essential to the story. I loved the layers of irony and the demonstrations of things simply stated. Eg. Smallwood said he was not a good father or husband and then throughout the book you realize how little the wife and children play a part its incredibly demonstrative of how poor he is at those roles.

One of the highlights of the novel is a series of brief interpolated chapters under the rubric of "Fi
Tina Siegel
Jul 08, 2010 rated it did not like it
This should have been a fabulous book. And parts of it were - mostly the language. I think Wayne Johnston did a wonderful job of evoking the tone and timbre of the time he's writing about. He also has a remarkable job of creating his two main characters - both Smallwood and Fielding are quirky and smart and a little irritating, with very distinct voices.

Actually, I did love Fielding. She's feisty. Unfortunately, the story focuses on Smallwood, who (as thoroughly imagined as he is) feels pedanti
Sarah B.
Sep 06, 2010 rated it really liked it
Shelves: my-library
This was the most fun I can ever remember having with Canadian history. I was fascinated by the characters' personal lives, and very interested in the development of Newfoundland as a country before it entered Confederation. I wish it could have been written from the point of view of Sheilagh Fielding, who I found much more interesting than Joey Smallwood. Smallwood's naked ambition was almost his only character trait. But I guess Johnston might not have been able to include as much detail in hi ...more
Jun 09, 2014 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The book starts with a bang but ends not even with a whimper.

The early years of Joey Smallwood are well imagined; he is a real person. Once he gets married and devotes his life to socialist utopia for Newfoundland, the story falls apart. He becomes a stiff historical figure and his story loses its dramatic tension as it is engulfed in regional and federal politics. His imaginary love affair with the odd Ms Fielding is thoroughly unconvincing.

Historical fiction is one of the hardest genres to wr
Jul 11, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2015
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is at its heart a book about Newfoundland. Johnston creates a fictionalized version of Joey Smallwood, a real Canadian labor organizer and politician, to tell this story of the province during the 20th century. Like Robertson Davies (my gateway into Canadian literature), Johnston finds a really nice balance between wit and depth that I like a lot. Thanks to Keith for the recommendation!
a pretty amazing, if, if dense and repetitive, saga of a western "nation/colony/confederated state/province" coming of age in the twentieth century and with a socialist/populist leader to boot (smallwood). this inst the most roiling page turner ever but very entertaining and interesting.
goes well with this too:

Where to start? This was a very long book that took a lot of motivation to pick up off my shelf, but that I ended up having a lot of opinions about. I was worried that it was going to be really dense, but fortunately, it turned out to be a very well written and engaging book about Newfoundland.

The Colony of Unrequited Dreams is historical fiction about Joey Smallwood, Newfoundland's first premier who helped to usher Newfoundland into confederation with Canada. He is both a well liked and dislik
Apr 29, 2019 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Knowing very little about the history of Newfoundland and Joey Smallwood, this book looked very promising as an opportunity for me to learn.
It turned out to be a very long and slow book read, that took a lot of motivation to struggle through to the end. It must be very difficult to write a mixture of historical fact and total fiction, and as I was reading, I was continually pondering if each story part was fact or fiction. When I discovered that the character of Fielding was all fiction, the bo
Jun 11, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is a completely fictionalized biography of a real person, and as such the reader often asks how much is actually fiction?

The real person is Joe Smallwood, the first premier of Newfoundland as a Canadian province, and the politician who spearheaded Newfoundland's confederation with Canada. Smallwood's main nemesis in this book is the completely fictional Sheilagh Fielding, a brash outspoken woman who carries a secret that changed the direction of Smallwood's life. Both Smallwood and Fieldin
Aug 16, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Didn't realize when I started reading this book that the story narrator, Joe Smallwood, was a real historical person. Smallwood, who was largely responsible for Newfoundland entering the Canadian confederation and was its first and most enduring premier, was a colorful character in his own right, but in this novel of his youth and rise to fame, he has a female best friend/best enemy who writes satirical newspaper columns about him. Sheilagh Fielding is one of the most intriguing fictional charac ...more
Jul 17, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Well told story, a strange sort of love story, with Newfoundland one of the main characters. Complex, both in characterization and characters. Living, as I do, on a (sort of) island, with both the marginalization and the identity that confers, I appreciated how "Newfoundlanders always return to Newfoundland" if, indeed, they can ever leave. The character Fielding is a marvel, at once soft and adamant, even though we never completely see the softness, only suspect it, until the end. The primary c ...more
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
Wayne Johnston's descriptions brought the beauty of Newfoundland to life. I could hear the grinding and booms of the ice, see the beauty of the fjords and more.
I learned so much about the history of the province and it's people. Which is one of the best reasons to recommend a book.

It was a tad long. For the last 10% of the book I did start to skim. I was just weary from the two stories being told.
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New Canadian Libr...: May 2018: The Colony of Unrequited Dreams 13 10 Jun 01, 2018 07:17PM  

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“I exhausted myself trying to take it all in, noting every little variation and departure from how things were supposed to be. My notion of home and everything in it as ideal, archetypal, was being overthrown. It was as though the definitions of all the words in my vocabulary were expanding at once.

Cape Breton was much like Newfoundland, yet everything seemed slightly off. Light, colours, surface textures, dimensions – objects like telegraph poles, fence posts, mail boxes, which you would think would be the same everywhere, were bigger or smaller or wider by a hair than they were back home. That I was able to detect such subtle differences made me realize how circumscribed my life had been, how little of the world I had seen.”
“You’re not an artist, you’re not a scientist, you’re not an intellectual. All that’s left to you is politics.” 0 likes
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