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?