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3.42 of 5 stars 3.42  ·  rating details  ·  2,502 ratings  ·  216 reviews
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, garbag
Paperback, 304 pages
Published May 12th 2009 by Trumpeter (first published August 4th 2001)
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The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret AtwoodLife of Pi by Yann MartelAnne of Green Gables by L.M. MontgomeryWater for Elephants by Sara GruenA Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
Best Canadian Literature
108th out of 839 books — 749 voters
Nikolski by Nicolas DicknerSwann by Carol ShieldsLady Oracle by Margaret AtwoodBedtime Story by Robert J. WiersemaThe Tainted Trust by Stephen Douglass
Canadian Bookish Novels
1st out of 14 books — 11 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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August Bourré
When I was doing my bachelor's degree, one of my summer jobs was working Confined Space Safety Watch (known colloquially as Hole Watch) for the Weyerhaeuser pulp and paper mill in Dryden. The job was pretty simple. The mill would shut down for ten days of the annual top-to-bottom maintenance period, a lot of workers, both contract and union, would have to crawl into some very cramped spaces to work, and often those spaces were dangerous. My job was to put on a tonne of heavy gear, grab a first a ...more
I've never enjoyed being so frustrated with a book as much as I enjoyed the twists and turns of this one! I truly enjoyed reading Nikolski, but it took a lot of effort to keep the details straight.

The first few chapters jump characters and settings quite dramatically, so much so that I thought I was reading three different stories. But gradually it all comes together, and you see that it's really part of the author's style, not to mention the foundation that allows for a clever unfolding of the
Much to the chagrin of my rock-music-lovin'-husband, I love talk radio. Specifically, I love CBC Radio 1. I listen to it every day. I listen to it at home, in the car, and I used to listen to it at work. I have my favourite shows: As It Happens, The Vinyl Cafe, The Current, and Q to name a few. (If anyone at CBC is reading this: Please bring back The Point. That was my absolutely favourite!)

I also, obviously, love reading. So when CBC started Canada Reads, I loved the idea. National unity consol
Blake Fraina
Some books make you feel and others make you think.

Nicolas Dickner’s clever debut, Nikolski, definitely falls largely into the latter category. As a matter of fact, it still has me turning over its intricacies in my head months after I’ve finished it. This tightly woven tale is packed with ideas that challenge customary thinking about the nature of personal identity. Dickner asks if who we are is a result of nature or nurture, genealogy or geography, or, perhaps, a combination of all four.

"Nikolski" teases three unconnected, yet absolutely connected lives together in a complex tapestry of eccentric themes which include piracy, bibliomania, fish, archaeology and cartography. Weirdly, and with more than a whiff of magic realism, Dickner manages to pull off a story that is brilliantly implausible but perhaps is not! The translation is superb capturing all that is comic and poignant and perceptive about this truly Canadian romp (sans BC!). Five stars would have been awarded had the f ...more
Nikolski is one of those perfectly Canadian books that sheds light on the national mosaic. In particular, the lives of three individuals interweave in this story and sometimes they even cross paths with each other (not that they ever know it). Water, pirates, and garbage are some of the strongest themes in this story. Fish in the water each follow different currents, some staying in smaller geographic areas and others shifting from one current to another. I got the sense from this novel that the ...more
I haven't actually attended a performance of Cirque du Soleil -- those tickets are crazy expensive -- but I have watched a few of their shows when they've been on TV. Totally redefining what a circus can be, the awe-inspiring athletic performances are paired with surreal costumes and makeup, strange staging and awkward-beautiful movements and singing. When I see a scene from a Cirque du Soleil show, I am usually left thinking, "That is weird. Is it art because it's weird, or is it weird because ...more
Andy Taylor
Winner of the 2010 Canada Reads contest hosted by CBC I was intrigued by the setting and premise. Opening in 1989 with three young people from very different backgrounds who leave their familiar surroundings to go on their on journey of discovery that takes them to Montreal where their paths converge however tangentially.

I loved Quebec author Dickner's prose that shines through with the guidance of Lazer Lederhendler's translation. Part Kurt Vonnegut yarn and part Chuck Palihnuik fable, I was ra
This book is about three lonely, lost souls trying to find their place in the world. Noah, Joyce and an unnamed bookstore owner are all misfits who are connected in ways they do not realize and whose lives have a lot of parallels to each other, even if they are not conscious of each other. All three of them were raised by a single parent and they all have, for one reason or another, distanced themselves from their families and are making their way in the world alone. They all are searching for m ...more
This was an easy and even mildly enjoyable read, and the translation certainly stood up, but the gimmick of the connection/disconnection of the characters essentially allowed the author to avoid any real character or plot development, and also resulted in the story seeming more than a little disjointed.

The book is just that, a not unpleasant read (whimsical, one newpaper review said) that goes nowhere. I would not have minded an actual story on any of the characters, which would require going de
Friederike Knabe
Every character in this light comedy-satire seems to be fishing for something, although not necessarily fish or even in water. Yet, most places where the action takes place are somehow located on islands: Montreal Island, Stevenson Island, and an island off the Venezuelan coast. Finally, and not to be overlooked the "magnetic north" and the title of the novel, Nikolski, a village one of the small Aleutian islands off Alaska. Sounds a bit like a mystery story? In a way, yes, as first time Quebec ...more
Steven Langdon
"Nikolski" features some of the most remarkable characters you will ever find thrown together in a single novel, never really interacting in any continuing way, yet building a collage of a book that has impact and humour and meaning despite its incoherence. There is Noah, deserted by his father, who grabs hold of accidental paternity and thrives as a doting parent of the sort he dreamed of having. There is Joyce, who seeks to become a pirate of the sort she dreams her absent mother became. And t ...more
Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Big Fish. I am not sure I could give a summary of the motley cast of characters and their unusual lives as there were 3 different stories running simultaneously, always threatening to run together yet never really did.

1. A hermit-ish booksellor in an old used bookstore who wears a compass that points to Nikolski where he believes his father, who he never met, must be.
2. A young orphan who comes from a line of pirates, determined to be one herself, forages into the
I had to think about whether I liked this book or not. It was like watching a movie that grew on you the more you thought of the memories of it rather than watching it at the time. The book was mainly about 3 characters that had connection to each other, but were mostly just ships passing in the night. They never actually connected and didn't really have much direction of their own, but each was quirky in their own right. The book just kind of starts, goes along and ends without anything being t ...more
I read this book as it is one of the ones on Canada Reads. I have to say there is much about this book that I really loved. I heard someone say on Canada Reads that they felt this was a "thin" book and I have to agree with the book's advocate that it depends on how one reads it. The characters and their background stories fascinated and hooked me as did the idea of what goes on in a large city during the night. A different take on what constitues identity and family and a lot to say on the subje ...more
First off, I love it when a book's setting is in my hometown.I just find it makes it easier to get right into the book.

It's actually three separate stories that are all somehow linked to each other.The three main characters (who I really liked) all interact with each other for brief moments.

I started off giving this a Four but as I was writing this review, I realized it actually touched me more than I tought and gave it a Five. The translation is excellent and I definitely want to read it in Fre
I found this novel had a sweet nod to fatherhood, travel and technology but it was mostly an ode to Montreal, with familiar streets and places as the backdrop to this charming adult "fairytale"; complete with modern-day pirates, radical archaeologists, daring travels, magical objects and siblings separated at birth. I understand why this won the 2010 version of Canada Reads and would happily recommend it to anyone looking for something a little whimsical, but with a good dose of "Canadiana" (how ...more
Nikolski is one of those special books. The storytelling is so unique because the writing is quirky and the characters are so intriguing. This story follows three young people as they bumble through their early lives trying to figure out where they fit and why. The book skips ahead in time here and there, very often many months or years in advance to give readers a glimpse of each characters' life at different, important moments. This might be distracting to some readers but I enjoyed it because ...more
Louise Reid
I thought this was a very creative plot. I liked the characters and absolutely loved the author's writing style....very magical. Even though the characters faced challenges the book was not depressing in any way. It was humorous, touching and beautiful.
Nicki Hill
this book felt a little tangential and i was kind of annoyed how none of the characters, although related (sometimes even biologically) were never able to make a connection. but i did enjoy it i'm just not sure why...
Valorie Spanogle
Jun 20, 2009 Valorie Spanogle rated it 1 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Valorie by: publisher request
I really had a hard time getting into this book. I didn't feel like there was much interaction of the characters and I never did find out what their shared family connection was.
Canada (Montreal)/Alaska. De merkwaardige belevenissen van Joyce (met een familiaal piratenverleden), de student Noah en de 'verteller' vinden een raakpunt in de figuur van Jonas Doucet.
Mireille Lapensee
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Nikolski captured my interest from the first page although I have difficulty explaining why. It is one of the quirkiest books I have every read. The story is told through three different characters who only meet in passing and never know that all three of them are related. However, all three end up in Montreal. The reader only knows the names of two of the characters and the third opens the book with "My Name is Unimportant." The third character tells his story in first person and is going throu ...more
ahhh, what to say about this book?! It will always be a book for me that is tied very much with a particular space and time. I read half of it while camping alone in the Summer of 2010 and the other half of it camping alone in 2011. This book read very while holed up in tent out in nature. It added to the Magic Realism aspects of the book. This is a genre that I have only recently discovered but apparently encompasses the majority of my favorite novels. Here is the wikipedia definition: Magic re ...more
Lindsey  Reeder
This weekend was filled with earl grey tea and “Nikolski” by Nicolas Dickner. If you’re from Canada and you listen to CBC, you might already know that this book was a contender on CBC’s literary competition called Canada Reads. Basically, it’s a battle of the books and each day one of the five books get kicked off and Nicolas Dickner made it to the end this year and took home the reigning title of Canada Reads, meaning that his book is the book that all Canadians should be reading and after read ...more
Reading the first two chapters of this book, I couldn't help be struck by the contrast with the last book I read, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit ; in that one, a girl is overwhelmingly influenced by her mother growing up, to the point that her father (though always around) is barely mentioned; here, though, two boys never meet their father, but are dominated by thoughts of him -- one has a compass that points toward the father, the other (Noah), since the father was a sailor, finds a sturgeon o ...more

***Some light spoilers in this review!***

It's tricky to review this one. My current girlfriend is friends with the author and translator, and the book has a fair bit of award power behind it, raising expectations considerably. So I was a bit disappointed when it turned out less wonderful than I had hoped.

Not to say it isn't a good book. Nicolas has an excellent imagination, and his characters (my favourites being Joyce [the modern pirate girl], her grandfather, Maelo, Sarah [Noah's mother], and
Wonderfully translated, beautifully written. Three characters, three lives, connected by familial threads that are as fine and strong as spider's silk. I loved this story. Yes, It was hard to follow at times, and once or twice I even went back to read over certain sections, just to reacquaint myself with the intricacies of the characters and their connections.

This was a book that made me think, and it continues to do so. I loved all the characters and cared about each one. I'm so pleasantly sur
Sadly this book is highly underrated; it's just not your typical story, the characters do not go through an extensive emotional drama, neither heroes emerge after a life threatening situation nor the world is about to end. Nikolski is just Zen, an homage to the beauty that makes the world we live in a magical place; something we all take for granted. I really enjoyed this book for what it is, relishing the many lines in which i was able to identify myself with, lines that'd bring sweet nostalgic ...more
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Nicolas Dickner est né à Rivière-du-Loup, a voyagé en Amérique latine et en Europe avant de jeter l’ancre à Québec puis à Montréal, où il vit aujourd’hui avec sa famille. Il signe en 2005 Nikolski, qui remporte le Prix des libraires du Québec, le Prix littéraire des collégiens ainsi que le prix Anne-Hébert et qui est, à ce jour, traduit dans une dizaine de langues. Tarmac, son deuxième roman paru ...more
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“In my view, fate is like intelligence, or beauty, or type z + lymphocytes - some individuals have a greater supply than others. I, for one, suffer from a deficiency; I am a clerk in a bookstore whose life is devoid of complications or a storyline of its own. My life is governed by the attraction of books. The weak magnetic field of my fate is distorted by those thousands of fates more powerful and more interesting than my own.” 2 likes
“Mais que gaspillerait-il, au juste? De l'espace? Des centimètres carrés? Du vide? Peut-on gaspiller du vide?” 2 likes
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