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
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
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
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
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
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?