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Nikolski [Paperback]

Nicolas Dickner , Lazer Lederhendler
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Feb. 10 2009 0676978800 978-0676978803 Reprint
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.

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Review

"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."
Winnipeg Free Press

"One cannot say it enough: this book is the discovery of the year… The humour is striking; his vision stunning."
–Carole Beaulieu, L'actualité

"Nicolas Dickner has a limitless imagination, great erudition and an inventive pen. He is the incarnation of the future of Quebec writing - nothing less."
–Pierre Cayouette, L'actualité

"If you are interested in the great wide world, submerse yourself immediately in this phantasmagorical, lively and fascinating novel."
–Hugues Corriveau, Lettres québécoises

"A carefully crafted, sumptuous first novel that will restore your taste for flights of fancy and for treasure hunts in time and space."
–Benoît Jutras, Voir

"Stylish, offbeat, poignant and perceptive."
–David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas

"Dickner excites the imagination of the reader to the point of ecstasy."
Le Monde

"Nicolas Dickner, who uses beautifully spare prose which can be as darkly comic as it is affecting, isn't trying to tell a conventional story, he's trying to tap into a very modern idea: that we need to understand that we all connect with each other somehow, family or not. And he does so impressively well."
Metro (UK)

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 translation of Nikolski. His translation of The Immaculate Conception by Gaétan Soucy was shortlisted for the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize and won the French-to-English Translation Prize from the Quebec Writers' Federation. Lederhendler lives in Montreal, where he teaches English and film at the Collège international des Marcellines.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars So much promise, but ultimately unsatisfying April 20 2010
By Rosie
Format:Paperback
I was initially drawn into this novel - in the beginning, the characters were developed as quirky, compelling people and I was very interested to see what would happen to them, and what their connections all meant. However, it felt as though the author, at the end, either lost interest or could not decide himself what should happen or what it all meant, or perhaps he felt that the "loose ends" could simply be left and still provide meaning to a reader. Unfortunately, they do not. As a reader, the "loose ends" provided neither meaning or "nuance" but only disappointing flatness and disengagement.

What we are left with in the end is just meaninglessness [SPOILERS BELOW]- all of the characters are left in unclear, unresolved situations less interesting than the ones they started in, there are significant gaps and unanswered questions, and absolutely no ties between the characters are explained or drawn out. The novel does not end on a note that creates wonder or imagination - it ends almost on a note of boredom. For example, why create such an interesting, complex character in Joyce and then fail to tell us anything about her motivations for her actions in the last half of the book, what she's done, and why she is going where she is? She starts out as a beautiful, complex young person but ends up being treated as a flat blank. Also, why would Joyce not report the body she found? If she did not, it's incredibly disturbing and bizarre, and distracts from everything we know or could wonder about her. Similarly, Noah starts out as a complex, confused but engaged character and ends up being portrayed oddly dispassionate. What happened to Arizna, her business and why does she demonstrate no love or affection for her son or son's father? And, the Nikolski compass just falls down a vent - and that's it?

It honestly just felt like I had wasted my time caring or bothering with the story.
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5.0 out of 5 stars a great puzzle Sept. 18 2013
By A S
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Excellent writing style and carefully placed symbols allowed me to draw on more connections than I had time for. An excellent read!
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars One man's garbage is another man's treasure Jan. 8 2010
Format:Paperback
Maybe this book will grow on me. It may just be quirky enough to win Canada Reads but I can't say I'll put it as one of my favourites. The following comments contain spoilers so read no further if you haven't read the book.

The title refers to a small town (village or hamlet may be more appropriate) on an island in the Aleutian peninsula. It was the site of one of the Distance Early Warning (DEW) line outposts established during the Cold War. It's the place where Noah's father, Jonas Doucet, ended his travels. Jonas is also the father of the part-time narrator of the story. And Jonas is probably Joyce Doucet's uncle or cousin. Noah, Joyce and the narrator come together in Montreal in the 1990's. The narrator has always lived in Montreal but Noah was raised on the prairies with his peripatetic mother driving an old car and trailer from place to place. Joyce grew up on the island of Tete-a-la-Baleine but ran away from the island to discover what happened to her mother. She wants to be a pirate like her ancestors but she settles for working in a fish shop in Montreal to pay her rent until she gets the pirate gig going. Noah has come to attend university (never mind that he has never gone to school -- that's just an insignificant detail I guess) and he intends to study archeology. He ends up sharing rooms above the fish shop with one of the owners. The narrator is a clerk in a used book store in the same neighbourhood. Their paths cross all the time but the three never seem to discover their shared origins.

Noah is the first of the trio to leave Montreal. He goes to live with his lover, Arizna, on a small island off Venezuela and help care for their son, Simon.
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3.0 out of 5 stars More Bookish Thoughts... May 30 2011
By Reader Writer Runner TOP 50 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback
Pirates. Trash. Fish. Destiny. Maps. A village, 'inhabited by thirty-six people, five thousand sheep and an indeterminate number of dogs.' What Nikolski lacks in plot, it certainly makes up for in uniqueness of theme and setting. Throughout the novel, the three protagonists remain ignorant of their biological connection but are inexorably linked by nomadism and idiosyncratic obsessions. Noah, an archaeology student, Joyce, a fish-store clerk and an unnamed used bookstore employee all emerge from far-fetched, dysfunctional childhoods as rootless adults living in Montreal. Dickner's characters lack depth and develop little; his saving grace is a whimsical, quirky style that ultimately produces a mostly enjoyable read.
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