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The Navigator of New York

3.72  ·  Rating details ·  2,319 Ratings  ·  104 Reviews
Wayne Johnston’s breakthrough epic novel The Colony of Unrequited Dreams was published in several countries and given high praise from the critics. It earned him nominations for the highest fiction prizes in Canada and was a national bestseller. His American editor said he hadn’t found such an exciting author since he discovered Don DeLillo. Johnston, who has been writing ...more
Paperback, 496 pages
Published September 9th 2003 by Vintage Canada (first published January 1st 2002)
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Jan 28, 2018 marked it as abandoned
Shelves: canada, 21st-century
This book has forced me to return to my pledge (temporarily abandoned, to my own disservice) that if a book doesn’t engage me in the first 50 pages, I would set it aside. I gave it my all for 79 pages — six complete chapters. Back to the library with this one!

While the jacket blurb sounded fascinating, Johnston didn’t come close to convincing me that this was late 19th century Newfoundland and turn-of-the-century New York. The story telling was dry as bone dust; the characters were weak and unin
Joy D
Historical fiction about a young man, Devlin Stead, overcoming an ignominious start in life, being viewed as “odd,” but eventually leaving behind his difficult childhood to join polar expeditions.

I had read about the controversy of Frederick Cook having claimed to be the first to reach the North Pole, later discredited, and of his rivalry with Robert Peary. I thought this book might provide some clarity as to what had really happened; however, it did not. In the author’s notes at the end, it st
James (JD) Dittes
This book had great bits, and it definitely had its flaws. I chose it to provide background to my trip to Canada, and Johnston is one of Canada's best writers. In the book, Devlin Stead is Luke Skywalker, his mother Amelia Stead is Princess Padme, and real-life hoaxer Dr. Frederick Cook appears as Darth Vader. Devlin finds his real father halfway through the book and somehow remains oblivious to his "dark side" until the last five chapters.

I had two major problems with the book: Devlin is one of
Brian Haverty
Apr 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
The number of reviewers who said this book is "very slow" makes me sad. Sad that there are people unable to sit back and enjoy writing like this, to savor -- no, savour soaks up more -- the world that Johnston creates. But as I continued to flick through the reviews, I found those that "got" Navigator (they're the ones who don't check the number of pages before starting a book -- "More than 300? Maybe another time"). If this book is "slow", it’s the kind of slow that describes sinking into a dee ...more
Sep 28, 2011 rated it it was ok
My favourite Johnston book will probably always be "Baltimore's Mansion." It has an emotional urgency that Navigator lacks.

For me, the fatal flaw of Navigator was the narration that endlessly cycled and recycled the same thoughts and questions. It deadened the action, and without it, a more nimble book would probably emerge, fifty or a hundred pages fewer. A stronger editorial hand might have focused the plot more towards drama rather than the melodrama that emerged.

But the narration also did
Dec 02, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: anyone who has a connection to ice and cold.
Recommended to Thomas by: Linda Lekie
I have not been so engrossed in a novel in quite some time. I found myself reading it the last few nights when I found myself alert in the middle of the night, between dream states where I wandered paths in faraway lands. This book of historical fiction has everything for me: the familiar setting (Newfoundland), the quality of the writing ( prizewinning Canadian author), and a depth of connection between characters that reflects the austere self-sacrifice that so often characterizes the spirit o ...more
Feb 25, 2014 rated it it was ok
I found this book a bit of a slog. There's really only one character in the entire book, Devlin's aunt, that I like, and she is gone after the first quarter of the novel. Devlin himself has nothing to recommend him. He's a totally boring character and he's the narrator, for heaven sakes. The other main characters are interesting but I didn't find any of them appealing. Likewise, the narration really had nothing to recommend it. It just seemed to drag. The other books I've read by Johnston I much ...more
Jan 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
This piece of historical fiction took me on a wild ride. Devlin Stead grows up in St John's Newfoundland, his father, by appearances a neglectful adventurer and his mother a benign but jilted housewife. His life takes a turn when after the mysterious deaths of both parents, while living in the care of his aunt and uncle, he learns the first of several secrets about his real origins. These revelations lead him to New York and ultimately to the ends of the earth. A fantastic story which takes us t ...more
Jan 14, 2016 rated it liked it
This is one of those books (like The Birth House) which is written in a familiar style and genre (modern literature coming-of-age I guess?) but set in a unique, interesting place. Frenetic New York at the turn of the twentieth century makes a refreshing and fascinating contrast with the starkness of the Arctic. Devlin is lovable and so are most of the other characters. The ending is a bit of a shock (if you hadn't researched it beforehand) but I really liked it. My only complaint is that I felt ...more
Feb 23, 2011 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: own, book-club
I'm not sure yet how I feel about this book. There was something so odd about the characters and the language - so stiff and unnatural that it almost seemed like they were joking when they weren't, or as though they were caricatures rather than real people. It didn't help that the subject matter of Arctic exploration didn't appeal to me at all, or at least this treatment didn't. Yet parts of it were quite enjoyable and even riveting.

My research (a.k.a. 3 minutes of Google) suggests that the bas
May 23, 2018 rated it really liked it
Victorianishly verbose and frustratingly concerned with appearance, the characters in Wayne Johnston’s The Navigator of New York struggle to unlock truths about themselves and those around them. Charting a course between honour and disgrace in the eyes of the ruling mobs of the Newfoundland and New York well to to, family and friends, and even the Arctic “Eskimo,” seems to prove more daunting than negotiating the icebergs and floes of the northern ocean. Yet the descriptions of adventure on the ...more
Aug 07, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommended to Sylvain by: three different people
Shelves: canlit
Reads too much like a less-than-believable soap opera (though it's slightly better if read as a young boy's fantasy: "My shitty parents aren't really my parents and my real daddy's an explorer!"). I also dislike how Johnston writes the same way whether he's talking about an excursion in the Arctic or about two people falling in love. Still, I'll always link this book to the trip during which I fell in love with New York City.
Jan 20, 2015 rated it it was amazing
A treat to re-read this book after several years. Family secrets, polar exploration, New York at the turn of the last century, exquisite writing. Sent me researching the building of the Brooklyn Bridge and Frederick Cook's controversial claim to the North Pole.
Derek Simon
Took a while to get going, but after the first 100 pages or so it was difficult to put down. Some interesting twists, and makes you want to learn more about polar exploration.
Jonathan Briggs

The life of Devlin Stead's father "was measured out in expeditions." A year after Devlin's birth, Francis Stead forgoes wife, child and lucrative family medical practice to alleviate his itchy feet in the icy, unexplored climes of the Arctic. On one such expedition, he wanders into the wilderness, never to be seen again.

On his 17th birthday, Devlin gets a letter from Frederick Cook, the intrepid explorer who was part of the expedition that left Devlin's father
Ron Charles
Dec 26, 2013 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Some historical novels want to be histories, and some want to be novels, but the best authors succeed however they cast the foreground and background. For instance, in Kevin Baker's "Paradise Alley," the fiery riots of 1863 take center stage, ably assisted by a stellar supporting cast of characters.

Though no less devoted to the past, Wayne Johnston takes a different approach in "The Navigator of New York." Here, the Newfoundland author keeps his attention focused on a precocious young man and us
Deborah Sowery-Quinn
Sep 04, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It helped that it was partly set in St. John's, Newfoundland, where I was to be going shortly after, setting the tone nicely! I like the historical fiction aspect, the rivalry between Dr. Cook & Lieutenant Peary, with regards to being the first to reach the North Pole, a topic I had read several non-fiction books about. But mostly I loved the main character, Devlin Stead, his peculiar & sad life, the result of the mysteries of his origins, & how he see ...more
Mar 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
Interesting historical background.....i’ve been reading up on the North Pole controversy between Peary and Cook expeditions after finishing this book. Long, slow reveals ....the background story is rather convoluted but I love the writing and it kept me going! Having been to Newfoundland is probably an advantage for the reader. Loved the scenes of burgeoning New York City at the turn of the century. Certainly admire the adversity that faces Arctic explorers as well as the day-to-day survival of ...more
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
I always hate to get to the end of a Wayne Johnston book. I love his writing so much! Something about it kind of relaxes yet enthralls my brain, I don't know. I could happily dive into this book and never climb out again.

But since diving into books is physically impossible, I ended up doing what I usually do after reading a Wayne Johnston book - hugging it and staring off into space, wondering if I'll ever have a reading experience that magical again. *sigh*
Jul 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Some books boast a great story with just okay writing skills. Other books are written with great literary skills but have just an okay storyline. This book has both....a mesmerizing story written by an extremely talented story teller. Loved this book written by a Canadian with some story connection to Newfoundland. Definitely add it to your "Want To Read" list.
Dec 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
The book was very interesting in that it spoke about a period of history that I did not know much about. All the characters were very introverted and therefore had a lot of feelings built up inside that needed to be healed or solved. The ending seemed somewhat abrupt and did not being conclusion to me. This book would have been better had the protagonist been a bit stronger of an individual.
Linda Tuplin
Apr 02, 2018 rated it really liked it
I have really been enjoying books about exploration these days, and this one was particularly well done.
Mar 07, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: canadian
I found it long. I'm not that interested in expedition stories.
Feb 05, 2013 rated it liked it
Very interesting. Slow start to the beginning, and the middle, but the end wrapped up nicely. Definitely a different book for me. I've had this book for quite a while now and until I started reading it I really had no idea what it was about. I can't say I gave any thought to the discovery of the North Pole and the age when it happened, so I have learned a lot. Now I can tell you about Robert Peary and Frederick Cook and I have some idea of what it would have been like trying to make a run for th ...more
Oct 01, 2015 rated it liked it
Shelves: historical-fic
I understand that a historical fiction book may alter facts. But shouldn't the historical and well known geographic facts be correct. A section of the book in Washington D.C.describes the river that runs between Washington D.C. and Arlington Virginia as the Deleware (even misspelled). It's the Potomac River. The Delaware River runs between New Jersey and Pennsylvania. Another error was when it referred to the Arlington Cemetery in VA. It claims soldiers from the American Revolution were buried t ...more
Sep 22, 2015 rated it liked it
Huh, kind of a weird book that I am still mulling over. Has a lot of Johnston's trademark tragic childhood stuff (which may be kind of sentimental but is well done). Also has some fairly unconvincing Arctic exploration stuff - I am pretty confident that Johnston has not been to the Arctic based on the lack of description. The narration is sort of vague and foggy - about half way through, I figured the narrator protagonist must be telling the story as an old man and only has some impressions left ...more
Jan 11, 2008 rated it really liked it
First book I've read by this author. What a marvellous writer! I love his
style, and his descriptions, and his choice of subject matter. He does an
amazing job of weaving historical fact and novelized fiction into a seamless
story that pulls you effortlessly from page to page.

The story is primarily set in Newfoundland and New York at the turn of the
20th century and follows the life of Devlin Stead and Frederick Cook who are
involved with the scientific community and with the "discovery" of the North
Aug 05, 2013 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this book. It took quite a while to get going. I found myself skipping faster through the book until about page 150. It was a lot of navel gazing,I found - how the writer describes how Devlin Stead grows up with his distant uncle and loving aunt. The story starts getting interesting when Devlin moves to New York. This part of the writing shines. It does repeat things but I found that this belonged to the book - the old fashioned style of that time. Devlin is a pretty passive character ...more
This is not a book I would have picked up on my own had it not been written by my thesis advisor, as the subject matter wasn't necessarily up my alley. But he read my science fiction mess, so I certainly felt I owed it to him to read it, and (not to my surprise) I really enjoyed it. I had no question that Wayne knew how to write a good sentence, and indeed line by line the prose here is about as good as it gets. The story is interesting too, and while not a fast paced book, you find yourself eag ...more
I read the book with interest although it has some flaws.The story is about Cook and Peary`s rivalry for reaching the North Pole but the writer has put many fiction here as well. The main character is Devlin Stead and he is telling his story of revealing family secrets.After many misfortunes and fate twists he discovers that his real father is no one else but Frederick Cook himself. He moves in his house and joins his expeditions during which Cook reveals his soul to Devlin.

I liked the descripti
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Can someone explain the book cover to me? 3 17 Jan 11, 2015 11:27PM  
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“Nothing so reminds you like the sea that the enemy of life is not death but loneliness.” 12 likes
“You are, Devlin, too young to understand how rare a thing true love is, how unlikely in this world to happen, and when it does, how unlikely to endure. And once it is lost, how hard to live without.” 6 likes
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