Nikolski

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Nikolski

by Nicolas Dickner
Translated by Lazer Lederhendler

Knopf Canada | February 10, 2009 | Trade Paperback

Nikolski is rated 3.2857 out of 5 by 7.
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, 8 × 5.15 × 0.8 in

Published: February 10, 2009

Publisher: Knopf Canada

Language: English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10: 0676978800

ISBN - 13: 9780676978803

Found in: Fiction and Literature

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Reviews

Rated 2 out of 5 by from What's the point of this book? 2.5 stars This tells three people's stories. They have all recently moved to Montreal. The narrator runs a bookstore, and is least often in the book. One is a young girl, Joyce, who has pirates in her family history and wants to be a pirate herself; she has run away. The third person, Noah, has come to Montreal to study archaeology. I never quite figured out what the point of the book was. There wasn't much of a plot, as far as I could tell. I was mostly bored, though the very end got slightly more interesting, as Joyce and the narrator interacted.
Date published: 2011-07-26
Rated 2 out of 5 by from disappointed This book was highly recommended by a very well-read bookseller, and it's very well written; but I never came to care about the characters, so I just didn't get drawn in.
Date published: 2010-03-17
Rated 2 out of 5 by from A little disappointing Started out great! I was in love with the opening narrator (the book store clerk). Touched on some great Canadian landscapes and very interesting themes and ideas. However, the latter half of the book didn't live up to the first half and was disappointing. I don't predict that it will win "Canada Reads 2010", but I may have to eat my words later this week.
Date published: 2010-03-11
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Post-modern Coming-of-Age Story Winner of Quebec’s top literary award and nominated for CBC’s Canada Reads 2010, Nicolas Dickner’s Nikolski is an imaginative novel of finding one’s place in a fragmented world. The book recounts the stories of three young adults from across Canada - Noah, who travels the Prairies with his mother in a trailer; Joyce, who lives in a small fishing village and feels trapped by her male-dominated family; and an unnamed narrator, who is cleaning out the Montreal apartment of his recently deceased mother as the story begins. Each of these characters simultaneously leaves their family and childhood behind as they seek to remake their lives on their own. From the beginning, one of the key themes of this novel is the symmetry of these three seemingly disparate narratives. In addition to family ties that the attentive reader discovers piece-by-piece throughout the work, all three characters converge in Montreal. Joyce, who finds work at a seafood shop, visits the narrator's bookstore. Noah, pursuing studies in archaeology, comes across Joyce as he conducts his "research," excavating Montreal's garbage lots by night. Dickner creates powerful moments as the characters continually bypass these opportunities to truly get to know each other and perhaps discover their surprising connections. Symbolism is powerful in this novel, and enhances the story by providing useful frames of reference to put together each of the characters' narratives. There is a mysterious book, missing its cover, that contains three separate stories. There are the stories of pirates that fascinate Joyce as she embarks on her own version of modern piracy. The background information on different kinds of fish and their migration patterns suggest some insights into the actions of these three characters, and perhaps of the generation they represent. This latter theme of rootlessness makes this book powerful, albeit challenging. Just like the characters' lives, Nikolski does not have a well-defined, predictable narrative from A to Z. Rather than drive home a singular message, Dickner uses his words and characters to create surprising images - the Prairies as a giant ocean, for example - and lets the reader derive his or her own interpretations. Surprisingly (at least for me), this results in a very satisfying read. What ultimately drives this book is Dickner's brilliant style of telling a story. At many points, his intimate prose leaves the impression that a storyteller is sitting right in front of you to tell the tale, whether he is talking about his characters or one of his many symbols in rich detail. Dickner's rendering of landscapes - from the landscapes of Prairie wheat fields, an Atlantic fishing town, and the working-class, multicultural streets of Montreal, and the beaches of Venezuela - is often breathtaking, and they nearly take on the roles of characters themselves. All this told with a healthy dose of wit. In Nikolski, I think that Dickner has created a unique novel, one that is a new take on the coming-of-age story for an increasingly migratory and rootless world. It may not be the most comfortable read, but its continual search for meaning in seemingly disparate events and characters leaves an oddly satisfying and relevant impression for our own narratives.
Date published: 2010-03-10
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Hidden Gem Nikolski follows 3 people through 10 years of their life. All of these individuals come from very different backgrounds and end up in Montreal where they all inadvertently cross paths or come close to connecting. This was a wonderful story which left me wanting more at the end, always a good sign. The author does a fantastic job of painting a picture of the vast and differing Canadian landscapes and how these landscapes affect the growth and development of the two main characters. Overall my favorite concept in this novel was how our stuff defines us now and to future generations who may end up digging through our garbage. Thank goodness for Canada Reads because I never in a million years would have randomly picked up this book, whch is sad because it truly is a wonderfuly story.
Date published: 2010-02-16
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Interesting Read "Nikolski" is full of magical symbols: a Nikolski compass forever pointing somewhere away from the true north, an old three-headed book that passed through many hands and mishaps eternally remaining as one unicum (a word I actually learned from reading "Nikolski": a book that is only a single known copy in the whole world), and garbage, as rejects that had come to carry their own weight in the world. Among all these symbols, we followed the life of two characters who live their days in parallel to each other without once realizing their own hidden connections. I was thrown by the trick that the author did to introduce a mysterious first person narrator in the first chapter and then hide him until a long while through the book. I was confused for the first three chapters in my feeble attempt to work out the convoluted (more or less because a lot of them were unrelated and unimportant to the story line later on) list of characters. Surprise. Nevertheless, "Nikolski" is an interesting read.
Date published: 2009-05-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from The art of storytelling l remember being enthralled by my Grandmother’s ability to tell great stories, the kind that exercises your imagination. Nikolski, reminds me of those storys. Thestory covers ten years in the lives of three young characters. Over the course of the novel, which takes us across Canada, the three characters converge on Montreal, where their paths will cross again and again without ever allowing them to guess what really unites them. The novel also asks the reader questions on the importance of family identity, heritage, fish migration, and the nature of destiny and ambition. All these elements come together and their meaning is revealed gradually as the story unfolds. The novel will make you smile, and will remain with you for some time after you’ve finished the story.
Date published: 2008-05-04

– More About This Product –

Nikolski

by Nicolas Dickner
Translated by Lazer Lederhendler

Format: Trade Paperback

Dimensions: 304 pages, 8 × 5.15 × 0.8 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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