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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.
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.