In this forceful, complex memoir, Wayne Johnston returns to the setting of his 1999 novel, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams
. Johnston doesn't just come from Newfoundland, remotest of Canada's provinces; he comes from the Avalon Peninsula, the most isolated portion of Newfoundland (and confused in young Wayne's boyish imaginings with the mythical Avalon, where King Arthur sailed to be healed of mortal wounds). It's an apt metaphor for a land that "was the edge of the known world, and looked it." Avalon's natives fiercely resented the 1948 referendum that joined Newfoundland to the Canadian Confederation--especially Johnston's father, the memoir's central character, who keens for lost independence in a manner highly reminiscent of Stephen Dedalus's father in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
. Indeed, parallels with Ireland are evident throughout, not just because the Johnstons are descended from Irish immigrants but because the Newfoundlanders exhibit a similar passionate insularity and zest for feuding among themselves. Johnston's muscular, plainspoken prose bears little resemblance to that of James Joyce, but his themes of exile and loss, loyalty and betrayal, and an ancient culture's ambivalent relationship with modernity resonate with the great writer's most urgent concerns. --Wendy Smith
From Publishers Weekly
Returning to the Newfoundland trenchantly chronicled in his acclaimed recent novel The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Johnston has crafted a sensitive, occasionally elusive memoir centered on three generations of men in his family. As in the novel, Newfoundland's "thirty thousand square miles of bogs and barrens" prove an affecting backdrop. His grandfather eked out a living as a blacksmithAa dying profession in the tiny town of FerrylandAwhile his father, Arthur, trained as an agricultural technician but became a "fish-preoccupied, fish-infatuated man" who took a job as a codfish industry inspector for the Fisheries of Canada. Striking passages recount Arthur's routine days spent tasting cod in a laboratory, returning home unable to bear the sight or smell of fish, and his travels around the province shutting down revoltingly unkempt processing plants. Johnston remains preoccupied with the fierce debates over the former British colony's 1948 confederation with Canada, a stinging defeat for his father and others who yearned for an independent Newfoundland nation. That bitterly contested vote, which saddled the province with billions of dollars of debt and hastened the demise of its rich, insular culture, also gives rise to this memoir's central mystery: an enigmatic family secret that darkened the relationship between Johnston's father and grandfather. Apparently a dispute over loyalty to Newfoundland, this betrayal-tinged affair seems somewhat contrived as the book's emotional touchstone and remains a disconcerting false note in an otherwise skillfully composed reminiscence. (June)
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