Cover image for The navigator of New York : a novel
Title:
The navigator of New York : a novel
Author:
Johnston, Wayne.
Personal Author:
Edition:
First edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Doubleday, [2002]

©2002
Physical Description:
483 pages ; 25 cm
Language:
English
ISBN:
9780385507677
Format :
Book

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Summary

Summary

Wayne Johnston's breakthrough epic novelThe Colony of Unrequited Dreamswas 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 fiction for two decades, launched his next and sixth novel across the English-speaking world to great anticipation. The Navigator of New Yorkis set against the background of the tumultuous rivalry between Lieutenant Peary and Dr. Cook to get to the North Pole at the beginning of the 20th century. It is also the story of a young man's quest for his origins, from St. John's, Newfoundland, to the bustling streets of New York, and the remotest regions of the Arctic. Devlin Stead's father, an Arctic explorer, stops returning home at the end of his voyages and announces he is moving to New York, as "New York is to explorers what Paris is to artists"; eventually he is declared missing from an expedition. His mother meets an untimely death by drowning shortly after. Young Devlin, who barely remembers either of them, lives contently in the care of his affectionate aunt and indifferent uncle, until taunts from a bullying fellow schoolboy reveal dark truths underlying the bare facts he knows about his family. A rhyme circulated around St. John's further isolates Devlin, always seen as an odd child who had inherited his parents' madness and would likely meet a similar fate. Devlin, who has always learned about his father through newspaper reports, now finds other people's accounts of his parents are continually altering his view of his parents. Then strange secret letters start to arrive, exciting his imagination with the unanticipated notion that his life might contain the possibility of adventure. Nothing is what it once seemed. Suddenly a chance to take his own place in the world is offered, giving him courage and a newfound zest for discovery. "It was life as I would live it unless I went exploring that I dreaded." Caught up in the mystery of who his parents really were, and anxious to leave behind the image of 'the Stead boy', at the age of twenty Devlin sails, carrying only a doctor's bag, to a New York that is bursting with frenzied energy and about to become the capital city of the globe; where every day inventors file for new patents and three thousand new strangers enter the city, a city that already looks ancient although taller buildings are constructed constantly. There he will become protégé to Dr. Cook, who is restlessly preparing for his next expedition, be introduced into the society that makes such ventures possible, and eventually accompany Cook on his epic race to reach the Pole before the arch-rival Peary. This trip will plunge Devlin into worldwide controversy -- and decide his fate. Wayne Johnston has harnessed the scope, energy and inventiveness of the nineteenth century novel and encapsulated it in the haunting and eloquent voice of his hero. His descriptions of place, whether of the frozen Arctic wastes or the superabundant and teeming New York, have extraordinary physicality and conviction, recreating a time when the wide world seemed to be there for the taking. An extraordinary achievement that seamlessly weaves fact and fabrication, it continues the masterful reinvention of the historical novel Wayne Johnston began withThe Colony of Unrequited Dreams.


Author Notes

Wayne Johnston was born in Goulds, Newfoundland in 1958. He graduated with a B.A. in English from Memorial University of Newfoundland in 1978. He worked from 1978-1981 as a newspaper reporter with the St. John's Daily News. In 1981, he decided to write fiction full-time. In 1983, he graduated with an M.A. in creative writing from the University of New Brunswick. His first book, The Story of Bobby O'Malley, won the W.H. Smith/Books in Canada First Novel Award in 1985. His other works include The Divine Ryans, which won the 1991 Thomas Head Raddall Award and was adapted into a movie, Baltimore's Mansion, which won the Charles Taylor Prize, The Colony of Unrequited Dreams, The Navigator of New York, and The Custodian of Paradise.

(Bowker Author Biography) Wayne Johnston was born and raised in Newfoundland and now lives in Toronto.


Reviews 3

Booklist Review

Johnston's beautiful, evocative novel opens in Newfoundland at the end of the nineteenth century. Devlin Stead's father, Francis, has abandoned his family to become an Arctic explorer, and his mother has drowned under mysterious circumstances, leaving Devlin in the care of his aunt and uncle. Francis disappears on a trip to Greenland, and it seems Devlin is indeed an orphan. While his aunt Daphne dotes on him, his uncle Edward wants nothing to do with Devlin, until one day when he mysteriously summons Devlin to his office. There he gives Devlin a letter from Dr. Frederick Cook, an explorer who was with Devlin's father on the mission during which he disappeared. In the letter, Cook reveals a surprising secret about Devlin's parents. Cook continues to correspond with Devlin, until Devlin turns 20 and determines to go to New York and seek out Cook. Cook welcomes him, and Devlin becomes his apprentice. Cook's rival, Robert Peary, is determined to be the first to get to the North Pole, and Cook is equally as resolved to beat him. He draws Devlin into his obsessive quest, all the time revealing more and more to Devlin about his family. Johnston is an accomplished storyteller, with a gift for both description and character, which he uses masterfully here. --Kristine Huntley


Publisher's Weekly Review

The race to get to the North Pole frames a young explorer's effort to unearth his family history in Johnston's latest, a captivating narrative that delves into both the noble and the seedier aspects of the human need to discover and explore. Devlin Stead is the orphaned protagonist raised by his aunt and uncle in Newfoundland after his physician father dies in a polar expedition under the aegis of Robert Edwin Peary and Dr. Frederick Cook. The boy's sheltered existence is shattered when he receives a series of letters from Cook that reveal the explorer-who had committed an indiscretion with Devlin's mother-to be the boy's real father. Cook invites Devlin to New York, where he takes him under his wing and makes him his assistant. Their strange relationship culminates when father and son journey to Greenland to rescue the stubborn Peary, who has become stranded while trying to reach the pole and refuses to give up and return. Devlin then becomes deeply involved in Cook's effort to beat Peary to the pole, participating in Cook's infamous 1908 attempt that was decried as a hoax. Johnston (The Colony of Unrequited Dreams; Baltimore's Mansion, etc.) occasionally gets overly caught up in the details of Devlin's murky personal history yet delivers a satisfying character study, and the polar explorations generate considerable narrative tension when the family subplot flattens out. Johnston's ability to illuminate historical settings and situations continues to grow with each book, and this powerful effort is his best to date. (Oct.) Forecast: The Colony of Unrequited Dreams was heralded as a stellar example of the Newfoundland novel-impressive, considering the quality of the offerings in that small but flourishing subgenre. The Navigator of New York has the potential to bump Johnston up a notch, so long as readers and reviewers don't tire of the scenery. (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved


Library Journal Review

As with Colony of Unrequited Dreams, Johnston draws on historical events to build his new novel. A fierce duel was waged during the years 1907-09 between Adm. Robert Peary and Dr. Frederick Cook, each claiming to have been the first to reach the North Pole. Against the backdrop of this dispute, Johnston tells the story of a lonely Newfoundland boy named Devlin Stead who grows up under a shadow because his parents reputedly committed suicide. As Devlin observes, "I could think of no greater thing than to be an explorer, the epitome of my most cherished belief, which was that a man's fate was not determined by the past." In fact, Devlin's fate is much in thrall to the past. The thrill of polar exploration, the beauty and terror of glaciers, and the horror of the long Arctic nights are splendidly evoked. The secrets of Devlin's parents are slowly revealed, adding intrigue and suspense to the last two-thirds of the book. For all collections of serious fiction.-Judith Kicinski, Sarah Lawrence Coll. Lib., Bronxville, NY (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.


Excerpts

Excerpts

Chapter One In 1881, Aunt Daphne said, not long after my first birthday, my father told the family that he had signed on with the Hopedale Mission, which was run by Moravians to improve the lives of Eskimos in Labrador. His plan, for the next six months, was to travel the coast of Labrador as an outport doctor. He said that no matter what, he would always be an Anglican. But it was his becoming a fool, not a Moravian, that most concerned his family. In what little time they had before he was due to leave, they, my mother and the Steads, including Edward, tried to talk him out of it. They could not counter his reasons for going, for he gave none. He would not counter the reasons they gave for why he should stay, instead meeting their every argument with silence. It would be disgraceful, Mother Stead told him; him off most of the time like the men who worked the boats, except that they at least sent home for the upkeep of their families what little money they didn't spend on booze. This was not how a man born into a family of standing, and married into one, should conduct himself. Sometimes, on the invitation of Mother Stead, a minister would come by and join them in dressing down my father. He endured it all in silence for a while, then excused himself and went upstairs to his study. It was as though he was already gone, already remote from us. Perhaps the idea to become an explorer occurred to him only after he became an outport doctor. Or he might have met explorers or heard about some while travelling in Labrador. I'm not sure. At any rate, he had been with the Hopedale Mission just over a year, was at home after his second six-month stint, when he answered an ad he saw in an American newspaper. Applying for the position of ship's doctor on his first polar expedition, he wrote: "I have for several years now been pursuing an occupation that required arduous travel to remote places and long stretches of time away from home." Several years, not one. He said that for would-be expeditionaries, such embellishments were commonplace. He signed on with his first expedition in 1882. A ship from Boston bound for what he simply called "the North" put in at St. John's to take him on. First a missionary, now an explorer. And him with a wife and a two-year-old son, and a brother whose lifetime partner he had pledged to be. My aunt's husband, my uncle Edward. Father Stead had been a doctor, and it was his wish, which they obliged, that his two sons "share a shingle" with him. My father, older by a year, deferred his acceptance at Edinburgh so that he and Uncle Edward could enrol together. The brothers Stead came back the Doctors Stead in 1876. In St. John's, Anglicans went to Anglican doctors, whose numbers swelled to nine after the return home of Edward and my father. On the family shingle were listed one-third of the Anglican doctors in the city. It read, "Dr. A. Stead, Dr. F. Stead and Dr. E. Stead, General Practitioners and Surgeons," as if Stead was not a name, but the initials of some credential they had all earned, some society of physicians to which all of them had been admitted. Three years after their graduation from Edinburgh, Father Stead died, but the shingle was not altered. Until his death, the two brothers had shared a waiting room, but afterwards my father moved into his father's surgery, across the hall. From the door that had borne both brothers' names, my father's was removed. It was necessary to make only one small change to the green-frosted window of grandfather's door: the intial A was removed and the initial F put in its place. F for Francis. Even without Father Stead, the family practice thrived. When asked who their doctor was, people said "the Steads," as if my father and Edward did everything in tandem: examinations, diagnoses, treatments. When they arrived at reception, new patients were not asked which of the brothers they wished to see -- nor, in most cases, did they arrive with their minds made up. Patients were assigned on an alternating basis. To swear by one of the brothers Stead was to swear by the other. But with the departure of my grandfather, the Steads were no longer the Steads, and for a while the practice faltered. And no wonder, Edward said, what with one of them having gone off, apparently preferring first the company of Eskimos and Moravians to that of his own kind, and now the profession of nursemaid to a boatload of social misfits to that of doctor. If one of them would do that, what might the other do? The family itself dropped a notch in the estimation of its peers. It was as if some latent flaw in the Stead character had shown itself at last. My father's patients did not go across the hall to Edward. They went to other doctors. Some of Edward's patients did likewise. He had no choice but to accept new ones from a lower social circle. My father, in letters home, insisted that he would take up his practice again one day. He promised Edward he would pay him the rent that his premises would have fetched from another doctor, but he was unable to make good on the promise, having forsaken all income. Rather than find another partner, rather than take down the family shingle and replace it with one that bore a stranger's name, Edward left my father's office, and everything in it, exactly as it was. That door. The door of the doctor who was never in but which still bore his name. It must have seemed to his patients that Edward was caught up in some unreasonably protracted period of mourning for his absent brother whose effects he could not bear to rearrange, let alone part with. Every day that door, his brother's name, the frosted dark green glass bearing all the letters his did except for one. He could not come or go and not be prompted by that door to think of Francis. The expedition "to the North" he said, immeasurably improved the map of the world, adding to it three small, unpopulated islands. Soon, my father's life was measured out in expeditions. When he came back from one, it was weeks before he no longer had to ask what month or what day of the week it was. He would go to his office, turn upside down the stack of newspapers left there for him by Edward and read about what had happened in the world while he was absent from it. He searched out what had been written about the expeditions he had served on, the records they had set. As my father had yet to command an expedition, none of these records was attributed to him. Rarely, these records were some "first" or "farthest." But most of them were records of endurance, feats made necessary by catastrophes, blunders, mishaps. Declaring a record was usually a way of putting the best face on failure. "First to winter north of latitude . . ." was a euphemism for "Polar party stranded for months after ship trapped in ice off Greenland." Excerpted from The Navigator of New York: A Novel by Wayne Johnston All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.