A Novel

Book - 2008
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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.
Publisher: Toronto : Knopf, 2008, c2005
ISBN: 9780676978803
Branch Call Number: DICKN
Characteristics: 290 p
Additional Contributors: Lederhendler, Lazer


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Jul 09, 2013

Quirky, quizzical, Bohemian, marginally surreal; homage to geographical imprints on our daily activities and the lives that evolve therefrom. As the days pass, Lady Luck lingers in the background: is she smiling or frowning? Thanks to Louise Penny for suggesting "Nikolski" as a read; yes, indeed, a pearl of a book.

brianreynolds Jan 18, 2012

When I finished Nikolski the first time I was struck by a number of things. It read like three trains on connecting tracks, all bound for a collision at top speed, a collision that never develops. It was at once thrilling and disappointing. It was clear as a sunny day what was going on, yet absolutely puzzling with all the synchronicity between the three plots and no glue to tie it together. The images were enchantingly ironic (how could you not love a son writing letters for decades to his wandering mother at random addresses in the hopes one would connect) but frustratingly disconnected. What was Dickner saying besides sometimes ships pass in the night, sometimes mysteries remain unsolved?

But just before I composed a review stating the obvious (or admitting to the obscure) I read the enlightening, well-written review of August Bourré which led me to sit down and read it all over again.

I think he's right. Instead of three trains, I believe there is just one: the "My name is unimportant" narrator who is has no friends or family, who collects travel books but never travels, a man with "flights of fancy," a dreamer who finds his own life pointless, a hermit in a used bookstore, his "universe made up entirely of books." The clues are subtle but they are there. In the end, he frees himself from the detritus which he as collected; he takes a chance; he moves on. But the catalyst in his transformation is the invention of his own mind. The lovely fiction of an imaginary half brother (the son who wrote letters) and an imaginary cousin whose fascination with piracy gets her into hot water is the charm of Nikolski. Their stories are bold, amazing, titillating in their serendipity, rich in detail, and sprawling in its scope. They are the ships that nearly collide. They are lives that a reader can fall in love with. But in the end, they are smoke in the mind of a man who at last has lost his false (Nikolski) compass and found a reason to risk living himself.

What an amazing read.

Oct 16, 2011

A delightful little novel; I can see why it was the winner of CBC Radio 1’s 2010 “Canada Reads” competition. Intriguing & offbeat characters - quite stark in that they were mostly ‘on their own’, acting independently in big cities but liked how their stories linked up along the way. Imaginatively introduces themes about life in modern Canada (the vastness, travel & nomadic lifestyles, multi-ethnic/cultural melting pot, understanding the world and people through their belongings, their rubbish & literature, stories).

Sep 08, 2011

Absolutely stunning. One of the best of Canadian fiction. It seems I like Canadian lit best. Check out plot from title click.

diesellibrarian Jul 07, 2011

An enjoyable read that is not without problems. Intriguing characters and the author's eye for quirky details kept me interested from start to finish. Not a masterpiece by any means, but a fun and strangely rewarding tale.

ksoles May 19, 2011

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.

Mar 04, 2011

Borrowed Apr, 21, 2010

Nov 22, 2010

Very light hearted and easy to read. I really enjoyed this

Librarian_X Nov 06, 2010

Canada Reads Winner 2010

May 05, 2010

Winner of Canada Reads 2010. I liked how this book was constructed - three main characters living parallel lives that intersect in clever, subtle ways. The reader has to pay attention, or they'll get lost. Set in Montreal, and in many places throughout Canada - I felt a great sense of place. Amusing and very enjoyable read.

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Oct 06, 2014

ukiuq thinks this title is suitable for 14 years and over


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