I still struggle to express what it means to be a Newfoundlander and how the conflicting emotions of “home” shape my life. It’s difficult. I’ve become as much a part of this province as it has become a part of me. But even my most eloquent words can’t sum it all up, unlike those belonging to these folks.
So if you really want to understand, try these books. Plus they’re just good darn reads.
The Colony of Unrequited Dreams – Wayne Johnston
Johnston is one of my all-time favourite authors, and I’m a huge fan of historical fiction. This book is a portrait of Newfoundland’s first premier, Joey Smallwood. He’s the man responsible for leading Newfoundland to Canadian Confederation, resulting in some disastrous results like the resettlement program I mentioned earlier. I found myself alternating between admiration over Joey’s character, and wanting to strangle him.
My favourite quote, as Joey leaves Newfoundland for the first time:
“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. 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.”
Nothing could ever sum up my conflicting feelings about travel as well as that paragraph, the excitement but loneliness that comes with the realization of understanding your own insignificance in the world.
Buy The Colony of Unrequited Dreams: A Novel here.
Bay of Spirits – Farley Mowat
In 1957, Farley Mowat begun exploring the outport communities of the Southwest coast…the area where I grew up in particular. He bought a tiny fishing schooner dubbed the Happy Adventure, and embarked on the kind of journey I can only dream of for the time being. The whole coast, dotted with hidden coves and private, sandy beaches, all open for exploration.
From the description: “Mowat creates an unforgettable portrait of the last of the outport people and their way of life that had survived for centuries but was now passing forever.”
Random Passage – Bernice Morgan
I actually just visited the film set in Cape Random (yep, real name) for the first time this weekend, and was reminded of this great series by Morgan. This story is about the Andrews family who leave England to start fresh in a new country in the earliest years of Newfoundland’s settlement. Unfortunately they’re met with the epic struggle of living in a barren, inhospitable land entirely cut off from civilization (don’t worry, we fare much better these days). I still remember the characters well, and they serve as a great portrait of the kind of people who were hardy enough (or silly?) to settle here in the first place.
Buy Random Passage here.
Death on the Ice – Cassie Brown
This book was pretty well the bane of every high school kid’s existence, but I’m just now appreciating its worth. This is a true story about the 1914 sealing disaster where 132 men were stranded on the ice in a blizzard causing the eventual gruesome death of most. Why is this important? It’s a testament to a century-old tradition now being fought by radical animal rights movements. I don’t necessarily support the hunt, nor do I oppose it. But I absolutely cannot get behind a group whose tactics involve uploading YouTube videos of the Newfoundland flag being burned. Give me an argument worth discussing, and I’ll listen. This book is worth a read to get educated, and form some real opinions.
The Shipping News – Annie Proulx
Probably the most famous book about Newfoundland, not even written by a Newfoundlander. But damn, Proulx is good. This story is about Quoyle, a man who moves from New York to a small fishing village in Newfoundland. He then starts writing for The Shipping News, and makes a new name for himself. It’s a great read mostly because it shows an outsider’s transition to island life, something that would have been much harder years ago but is still indicative of modern rural life.
Buy The Shipping News here.
Obviously, I haven’t read them all and I’m always looking for more material. Recommend some literature to me, and I’ll check them out once I’m over my obsession with Anne of Green Gables.