Nikolski

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Overview

Spring 1989. Three young people leave their far-flung birthplaces to follow their own songs of migration. Each ends up in Montreal, each on a voyage of self-discovery, dealing with the mishaps of heartbreak and the twisted branches of their shared family tree.

Filled with humor, charm, and good storytelling, this novel shows the surprising links between cartography, garbage-obsessed archeologists, pirates past and present, a mysterious book with no cover, and a broken compass ...

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Overview

Spring 1989. Three young people leave their far-flung birthplaces to follow their own songs of migration. Each ends up in Montreal, each on a voyage of self-discovery, dealing with the mishaps of heartbreak and the twisted branches of their shared family tree.

Filled with humor, charm, and good storytelling, this novel shows the surprising links between cartography, garbage-obsessed archeologists, pirates past and present, a mysterious book with no cover, and a broken compass whose needle obstinately points to the Aleutian village of Nikolski (a minuscule village inhabited by thirty-six people, five thousand sheep, and an indeterminate number of dogs).

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
 "There is a real strain of romanticism in Quebec novels. One of the most beautiful is Nikolski, by first-time novelist Nicholas Dickner. It offers a breathtakingly original perception of the world, mixing geography, cartography, and longing in a language and construction both intellectually sophisticated and emotionally affecting."—Globe and Mail

"With the obvious (and wicked?) pleasure of a born storyteller, Nicholas Dickner has us holding our breath with his many narratives that join up in most unexpected ways, continuing to surprise us at every turn."—Prix Anne-Hebert jury (Nikolski wom the prize in 2006 for Best First Book)

“Dickner excites the imagination of the reader to the point of ecstasy.”—Le Monde

"Nikolski is a great success, both for its structure and its imagination."—La Presse

Publishers Weekly

Dickner's first novel is an odd tale of missed connections, restlessness and the search for home that follows three quirky Montrealites. One story line follows a nameless narrator who works in a second-hand Montreal bookshop and reveres an inexpensive compass sent to him when he was a child by his absent father. Meanwhile, Noah, who grew up in the care of a transient single mother, arrives in Montreal to study archeology and rents a room from the owner of a fish shop. Then there's Joyce, a young woman from a family that claims pirate origins, who washes up in Montreal, finds work in the fish shop and begins her own version of living the family legend. The characters' lives brush up against one another (largely thanks to a book about pirates that, through various personal connections, ends up as the lightly binding force of the three characters' fates) but-in a nice subversion of the "intersecting fates" arc-don't loudly collide. Dickner's three spiritual nomads are strangely fascinating, while Lederhendler's smooth translation makes this offbeat novel all the more attractive. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781590307144
  • Publisher: Shambhala Publications, Inc.
  • Publication date: 5/12/2009
  • Edition description: Original
  • Pages: 304
  • Product dimensions: 5.10 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Nicolas Dickner won two literary awards for his first published work, the short story collection L’encyclopédie du petit cercle. Born in Rivière-du-Loup, Quebec, he traveled extensively in Europe and Latin America before settling in Montreal.

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Read an Excerpt

Noah instantly fell in love with Cesar Sanchez’s old bike.
Standing on the pedals, with a firm grip on the rim of the basket, head down, he feels as though he’s sailing over the neighborhood. The hazards of the road disappear. No more traffic, no more one-way streets, no more driving regulations. All that remain are the landmarks stretched by speed: the Jean-Talon market, the St-Zotique church, an elderly man sitting on his bench, the statue of Dante Alighieri, the alternating butcher shops and shoe-repair shops, a tree-lined sidewalk.
The deliveryman’s job, which he initially viewed as dreary, suddenly seems to him like an ideal way to map out the neighborhood. Riding his bike, he constructs an aerial view of the territory—squares, alleyways, walls, graffiti, schoolyards, stairways, variety stores, and snack bars—and when he talks with the customers, he gathers intelligence on accents, clothing, physical traits, kitchen smells, and bits of music. Added together, the two catalogues make up a complex map of the area, at once physical and cultural.
He tries to transpose his observations onto a map of Montreal, but two dimensions are not enough to contain the wealth of information. Instead he would need a mobile, a game of Mikado, a matryoshka, or even a series of nested scale models: a Little Italy containing a Little Latin America, which contains a Little Asia, which in turn contains a Little Haiti, without forgetting of course a little San Pedro de Macorís.
For the first time in his life, Noah is starting to feel at home.

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Reading Group 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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Customer Reviews

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