Nikolski

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Nikolski

by Nicolas Dickner
Translated by Lazer Lederhendler

Knopf Canada | February 10, 2009 | Trade Paperback |

3.2857 out of 5 rating. 7 Reviews
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Selected as the 2010 CBC Canada Reads Winner!

Awards for the French-language edition:
Prix des libraires 2006
Prix littéraire des collégiens 2006
Prix Anne-Hébert 2006 (Best first book)
Prix Printemps des Lecteurs-Lavinal

Intricately plotted and shimmering with originality, Nikolski charts the curious and unexpected courses of personal migration, and shows how they just might eventually lead us to home.

In the spring of 1989, three young people, born thousands of miles apart, each cut themselves adrift from their birthplaces and set out to discover what - or who - might anchor them in their lives. They each leave almost everything behind, carrying with them only a few artefacts of their lives so far - possessions that have proven so formative that they can''t imagine surviving without them - but also the accumulated memories of their own lives and family histories.

Noah, who was taught to read using road maps during a life of nomadic travels with his mother - their home being a 1966 Bonneville station wagon with a silver trailer - decides to leave the prairies for university in Montreal. But putting down roots there turns out to be a more transitory experience than he expected. Joyce, stifled by life in a remote village on Quebec''s Lower North Shore, and her overbearing relatives, hitches a ride into Montreal, spurred on by a news story about a modern-day cyber-pirate and the spirit of her own buccaneer ancestors. While her daily existence remains surprisingly routine - working at a fish shop in Jean-Talon market, dumpster-diving at night for necessities - it''s her Internet piracy career that takes off. And then there''s the unnamed narrator, who we first meet clearing out his deceased mother''s house on Montreal''s South Shore, and who decides to move into the city to start a new life. There he finds his true home among books, content to spend his days working in a used bookstore and journeying though the many worlds books open up for him.

Over the course of the next ten years, Noah, Joyce and the unnamed bookseller will sometimes cross paths, and sometimes narrowly miss each other, as they all pass through one vibrant neighbourhood on Montreal''s Plateau. Their journeys seem remarkably unformed, more often guided by the prevailing winds than personal will, yet their stories weave in and out of other wondrous tales - stories about such things as fearsome female pirates, urban archaeologists, unexpected floods, fish of all kinds, a mysterious book without a cover and a dysfunctional compass whose needle obstinately points to the remote Aleutian village of Nikolski. And it is in the magical accumulation of those details around the edges of their lives that we begin to know these individuals as part of a greater whole, and ultimately realize that anchors aren't at all permanent, really; rather, they''re made to be hoisted up and held in reserve until their strength is needed again.

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 304 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: February 10, 2009

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676978800

ISBN - 13: 9780676978803

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– More About This Product –

Nikolski

Nikolski

by Nicolas Dickner
Translated by Lazer Lederhendler

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 304 Pages, 5.12 × 7.87 × 0.79 in

Published: February 10, 2009

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676978800

ISBN - 13: 9780676978803

Read from the Book

Magnetic Anomaly My name is unimportant. It all started in September 1989, at about seven in the morning. I''m still asleep, curled up in my sleeping bag on the living-room floor. There are cardboard boxes, rolled-up rugs, half-disassembled pieces of furniture, and tool boxes heaped around me. The walls are bare, except for the pale spots left by the pictures that had hung there for too many years. The window lets in the monotonous, rhythmic sound of the waves rolling over the stones. Every beach has a particular acoustic signature, which depends on the force and length of the waves, the makeup of the ground, the form of the landscape, the prevailing winds and the humidity in the air. It''s impossible to confuse the subdued murmur of Mallorca with the resonant roll of Greenland''s prehistoric pebbles, or the coral melody of the beaches of Belize, or the hollow growl of the Irish coast. The surf I hear this morning is easy enough to identify. The deep, somewhat raw rumbling, the crystalline ringing of the volcanic stones, the slightly asymmetrical breaking of the waves, the water rich in nutriments – there''s no mistaking the shores of the Aleutian Islands. I mutter something and open my left eye a crack. Where can that unlikely sound be coming from? The nearest ocean is over a thousand kilometres away. And besides, I''ve never set foot on a beach. I crawl out of the sleeping bag and stumble over to the window. Clutching at the curtains, I watch the garbage truck pull up
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From the Publisher

Selected as the 2010 CBC Canada Reads Winner!

Awards for the French-language edition:
Prix des libraires 2006
Prix littéraire des collégiens 2006
Prix Anne-Hébert 2006 (Best first book)
Prix Printemps des Lecteurs-Lavinal

Intricately plotted and shimmering with originality, Nikolski charts the curious and unexpected courses of personal migration, and shows how they just might eventually lead us to home.

In the spring of 1989, three young people, born thousands of miles apart, each cut themselves adrift from their birthplaces and set out to discover what - or who - might anchor them in their lives. They each leave almost everything behind, carrying with them only a few artefacts of their lives so far - possessions that have proven so formative that they can''t imagine surviving without them - but also the accumulated memories of their own lives and family histories.

Noah, who was taught to read using road maps during a life of nomadic travels with his mother - their home being a 1966 Bonneville station wagon with a silver trailer - decides to leave the prairies for university in Montreal. But putting down roots there turns out to be a more transitory experience than he expected. Joyce, stifled by life in a remote village on Quebec''s Lower North Shore, and her overbearing relatives, hitches a ride into Montreal, spurred on by a news story about a modern-day cyber-pirate and the spirit of her own buccaneer ancestors. While her daily existence remains surprisingly routine - working at a fish shop in Jean-Talon market, dumpster-diving at night for necessities - it''s her Internet piracy career that takes off. And then there''s the unnamed narrator, who we first meet clearing out his deceased mother''s house on Montreal''s South Shore, and who decides to move into the city to start a new life. There he finds his true home among books, content to spend his days working in a used bookstore and journeying though the many worlds books open up for him.

Over the course of the next ten years, Noah, Joyce and the unnamed bookseller will sometimes cross paths, and sometimes narrowly miss each other, as they all pass through one vibrant neighbourhood on Montreal''s Plateau. Their journeys seem remarkably unformed, more often guided by the prevailing winds than personal will, yet their stories weave in and out of other wondrous tales - stories about such things as fearsome female pirates, urban archaeologists, unexpected floods, fish of all kinds, a mysterious book without a cover and a dysfunctional compass whose needle obstinately points to the remote Aleutian village of Nikolski. And it is in the magical accumulation of those details around the edges of their lives that we begin to know these individuals as part of a greater whole, and ultimately realize that anchors aren't at all permanent, really; rather, they''re made to be hoisted up and held in reserve until their strength is needed again.

About the Author

Born in Rivière-du-Loup in 1972, Nicolas Dickner grew up in Quebec and studied visual arts and literature in university. Afterwards, he travelled extensively in Europe and Latin America before settling in Montreal, where he now resides. Dickner won two literary awards for his first published work, the 2002 short story collection L''encyclopédie du petit cercle , including the Prix Adrienne-Choquette for the best collection of short fiction of the year. Dickner''s first novel, Nikolski , was originally published in Quebec by Éditions Alto in 2005, and then in 2007 by Éditions Denoël in France. It soon garnered rave reviews and prestigious awards, including the Prix des libraires du Québec, the Prix littéraire des collegians, the Prix Anne-Hébert for best first book, and France''s Prix Printemps des lecteurs - Lavinal. The English edition, with the translation done by Lazer Lederhendler, was published as part of Knopf Canada''s well-regarded New Face of Fiction program in 2008. Since then, English rights have also been sold in the UK and the United States. Nicolas Dickner is also the author of Boulevard Banquise , a children''s book, and a second short story collection, Traité de balistique , both published in 2006. He is currently a literary columnist for Voir and is working on his next novel. Lazer Lederhendler is a four-time finalist for the Governor General''s Literary Award, and won the award in 2008 for his tran
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Editorial Reviews

"Despite the preponderance of clues and artefacts scattered throughout the story, Dickner does not tie everything up in a neat package. He lets certain threads dangle, giving Nikolski more substance and nuance. The story lingers in the mind long after the last page has been read, leaving the reader in its strange and wonderful orbit." – The Gazette " Nikolski offers a breathtakingly original perception of the world, mixing geography, cartography and longing in a language and construction both intellectually sophisticated and emotionally affecting." – The Globe and Mail "The characters are so infused with vitality and surprise that they become unforgettable; the language (and in translation - remarkable) is as lively as the characters; and the humorous, sweetly sad view of life in general is engaging… This novel is so richly textured and multi-layered that a single short review may do it a disservice. But its comic brilliance is undeniable - a hugely enjoyable read." – Edmonton Journal "Chock full of arcane detail about the sea, fish lore, antique books, travel and archaeology, Nikolski is the product of an eccentric mind propelled by an exuberant spirit." –Marianne Ackerman, The Walrus "Lederhendler''s cadences and elegant vocabulary are a pleasure to read, while Dickner inexorably sweeps the reader along with the tide as the characters mature. This novel will bring a smile to your face and will be one you will want to read again." – Winni
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Bookclub Guide

1. Nikolski takes place over the course of a decade, 1989 to Christmas 1999, and the narrative often leaps over years at a time. What effect do these leaps in time have on your ability to relate to the characters, and on the novel as a whole? Why has Dickner chosen this trajectory?

2. Why is Noah''s narrative developed more fully than Joyce''s, or the unnamed narrator''s? Discuss the interleaving technique Dickner uses to tell their stories.

3. Does Joyce change at all over the course of the novel? How so, or why not?

4. Discuss Noah, Joyce and the unnamed narrator''s relationships - or non-relationships - with their parents and extended families.

5. In contrast to the three protagonists, who tend to be loners, Maelo exemplifies family and community support: finding jobs and rooms for all manner of newcomers, hosting jututo gatherings every Sunday, even setting Joyce up with his grandmother in the Dominican Republic. Why has Dickner given him this role in the novel?

6. Besides being Joyce''s uncle, who left Tête-à-la-Baleine at age fourteen to roam the world, Jonas Doucet is the father of both Noah and the unnamed narrator. In what ways do memories of him pervade and guide the lives of our protagonists?

7. Discuss the notion of "trash archaeology" and what it says not only about the characters in Nikolski, but also about real life. Do you think it''s possible to truly know a person based on what he or she throws away or keeps? Or a culture?

8. What makes the protagonists pick up, pare down and take off so many times in Nikolski? Does this nomadic tendency reflect reality, or a natural human need to move on, or just the urges bred into each of them as individuals?

9. Dickner goes to great lengths to juxtapose land and sea in this novel: there are nomads and pirates, wide prairies and wider oceans, and the sense that characters are more often lost or adrift than in control of their journeys. Discuss the ways Dickner evokes land and sea throughout the novel, and their respective pulls.

10. More than one critic has commented on the short chapter "Little Dipper" during which we as readers survey Joyce''s abandoned room. No characters are present but a story is told - as Dickner puts it, "the character was the room itself." Discuss how such attention to the details of characters'' lives, as opposed to the characters themselves, ties in with broader themes of the book.

11. Why does Joyce leave Montreal? What do you think she''s going to do next?

12. In the end, our unnamed narrator decides to escape the "gravitational pull of books" and get rid of his possessions. Discuss how holding on to the past, whether in memories or in property, is treated in the novel - is it a positive or negative compulsion?

13. Why don''t we ever get to know Arizna better?

14. Both the house on Margarita Island and the Doucet house outside Tête-à-la-Baleine serve as repositories of history - yet also as refuges. Talk about the significance of these houses to Noah and Joyce. We never learn the fate of the Margarita Island house after the floods, but the Doucet house falls into the ocean. What could that signify?

15. Talk about the significance of ancestry in the novel. Why do the ghosts of Noah''s Chipewyan forebears hang around inside Sarah''s trailer? Why does Joyce not care for her family in Tête-à-la-Baleine but obsess about the pirates on her mother''s side? Why do a Bonneville station wagon called Grampa and an abandoned yacht named Granma appear here?

16. Why doesn''t Noah travel back to the prairies and track his mother down at some point? Do you think he ever will?

17. What is the significance of Noah buying Simón every dinosaur book he can find in the bookshop, yet declining to buy back The Book With No Face (and just handing over the Caribbean map page instead)? And why does our unnamed narrator just put it back in the bin?

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