St. John’s, Newfoundland, Canada: Breakwater Publishing, 1992

Although Random Passage is not a brand new book, this fictional account of one family’s emigration from England to a remote outport in rural Newfoundland nearly 200 years ago has a habit of staying in print and selling regularly. The book’s popularity is in part due to its historical accuracy about hard times in the tiny, remote outports where immigrants struggled against the twin ills of economic deprivation and long, harsh winters. It is widely regarded as an accurate fictional glimpse into the way Newfoundland was settled. The Canadian Broadcasting Corporation made it into a mini-series that aired two years ago.

Well-written, never mawkish or sentimental, for readers unfamiliar with Newfoundland’s past, Random Passage is a wonderful introduction to the roots of its fish-dependent culture. Here the fishing admirals control people’s lives in ways akin to slave owners. Most people who “make fish” for the merchants who control the salt fish trade will die owing the company store.

Newfoundland author Bernice Morgan’s chronicle of the Andrews family is more than a fact-based account of a fictional group’s hardships. It is also a gripping and honest tale of the human spirit’s ability to survive and find some pleasure under any conditions. While the characters, time and place are uniquely Newfound-land’s, the struggles and victories are those of pioneers everywhere.

The story begins soon after the death of mad King George III and ends a generation later with the start of Queen Victoria’s reign. A brief prologue sounds a warning for the eventual disappearance of a group of Newfoundland’s indigenous people, who were completely wiped out by European settlers.

The first chapter introduces the Andrews family in their English home, poor but safe and reasonably happy. All such security changes overnight and the family — a mother, her teenage daughter and two brothers with their wives and children – find themselves tossing about on the November Atlantic on a French ship bound for the unknown wilds of New Foundland.

After that, the tale becomes one of heroics, but not of the epic type. Instead, the book offers a close look at the everyday heroics required for simple survival in remote, barely-populated Cape Random, by people who needed to think, plan and work ahead of the seasons to ensure their winter’s heat and food supply or suffer the fatal consequences.

In spite of the hard work and hard times, these people find at least a little time to improve their simple homes, fall in love, have children, worship, appreciate a tranquil scene or a rare, lazy moment and tell stories.

Lavinia Andrews, who is 17 years old at the story’s start, is the diarist and therefore chronicler of the first part of the tale. Since she is one of only few in the settlement who can read and write, she is eventually asked to teach the younger children.

After a few mysterious twists and turns of the plot and relationships, the book changes focus. The second and shorter part is told from the point of view of the first resident of Cape Random, Thomas Hutchings, a man whose past – even after 15 years of living with him – is unknown to the Cape’s other residents. His past is quickly revealed at the start of Book 2, but readers have little time to consider it as his present quickly changes and the book ends, “crying out for a sequel,” as one reader put it.

The sequel, Waiting for Time, was released two years later by Breakwater, the title taken from a phrase in use during the era and uttered by one of the Random Passage characters.

Although Random Passage is available throughout Canada and in some places in the United States (, et al), a few of the words used are unique to Newfoundland and may leave American readers, and many Canadians, scratching their heads. However, a few unfamiliar words don’t mar the reading experience.