Nikolski

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9781846271663: Nikolski

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).

Les informations fournies dans la section « Synopsis » peuvent faire référence à une autre édition de ce titre.

About the Author :

Born in Quebec in 1972 Nicholas Dickner travelled extensively in Europe and Latin America before settling in Montreal. His first book was an award-winning collection of stories, L'encyclopedie du petit cercle, and he is currently at work on his next novel. This is his UK debut.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved. :

Magnetic Anomaly

My name is unimportant.

It all started in September 1989, at about seven in the morning.

I’m still asleep, curled up in my sleeping bag on the living-room floor. There are cardboard boxes, rolled-up rugs, half-disassembled pieces of furniture, and tool boxes heaped around me. The walls are bare, except for the pale spots left by the pictures that had hung there for too many years.

The window lets in the monotonous, rhythmic sound of the waves rolling over the stones.

Every beach has a particular acoustic signature, which depends on the force and length of the waves, the makeup of the ground, the form of the landscape, the prevailing winds and the humidity in the air. It’s impossible to confuse the subdued murmur of Mallorca with the resonant roll of Greenland’s prehistoric pebbles, or the coral melody of the beaches of Belize, or the hollow growl of the Irish coast.

The surf I hear this morning is easy enough to identify. The deep, somewhat raw rumbling, the crystalline ringing of the volcanic stones, the slightly asymmetrical breaking of the waves, the water rich in nutriments – there’s no mistaking the shores of the Aleutian Islands.

I mutter something and open my left eye a crack. Where can that unlikely sound be coming from? The nearest ocean is over a thousand kilometres away. And besides, I’ve never set foot on a beach.

I crawl out of the sleeping bag and stumble over to the window. Clutching at the curtains, I watch the garbage truck pull up with a pneumatic squeal in front of our bungalow. Since when do diesel engines imitate breaking waves?

Dubious poetry of the suburbs.

The two trash collectors hop down from their vehicle and stand there, dumbstruck, contemplating the mountain of bags piled on the asphalt. The first one, looking dismayed, pretends to count them. I start to worry; have I infringed some city bylaw that limits the number of bags per house? The second garbageman, much more pragmatic, sets about filling the truck. He obviously couldn’t care less about the number of bags, their contents or the story behind them.

There are exactly thirty bags.

I bought them at the corner grocery store – a shopping experience I’m not about to forget.

Standing in the cleaning-products aisle, I wondered how many garbage bags would be needed to hold the countless memories my mother had accumulated since 1966. What volume could actually contain thirty years of living? I was loath to do the indecent arithmetic. Whatever my estimation might be, I was fearful of underestimating my mother’s existence.

I went for a brand that seemed sufficiently strong. Each package contained ten revolutionary ultraplastic refuse bags with a sixty-litre capacity.

I took three packages, for a total of 1,800 litres.

The thirty bags turned out to be adequate – though I did on occasion enlist my foot to press the point home – and now the garbagemen are busy tossing them into the gaping mouth of the truck. Every so often, a heavy steel jaw crushes the trash with a pachyderm-like groan. Nothing at all like the poetic susurrations of the waves.

Actually, the whole story – since it needs to be told – began with the Nikolski compass.



The old compass resurfaced in August, two weeks after the funeral.

My mother’s endless agony had worn me out. Right from the initial diagnosis, my life had turned into a relay race. My days and nights were spent shuttling from the house, to work, to the hospital. I stopped sleeping, ate less and less, lost nearly five kilos. It was as if I were the one struggling with the tumours. Yet the truth was never in doubt. My mother died after seven months, leaving me to bear the entire world on my shoulders.

I was drained, my thinking out of focus – but there was no question of throwing in the towel. Once the paperwork was taken care of, I launched into the last big cleanup.

I looked like a survivalist, holed up in the basement of the bungalow with my thirty garbage bags, an ample supply of ham sandwiches, cans and cans of concentrated frozen orange juice and the FM radio with the volume turned down low. I gave myself a week to obliterate five decades of existence, five closetfuls of odds and ends crumbling under their own weight.

Now, this sort of cleanup may seem grim and vindictive to some. But understand: I found myself suddenly alone in the world, with neither friends nor family, but still with an urgent need to go on living. Some things just had to be jettisoned.

I went at the closets with the cool detachment of an archaeologist, separating the memorabilia into more or less logical categories:

• a cigarillo box filled with seashells
• four bundles of press clippings about the U.S. radar stations in Alaska
• an old Instamatic 104 camera
• over three hundred pictures taken with the aforementioned Instamatic 104
• numerous paperback novels, abundantly annotated
• a handful of costume jewellery
• a pair of Janis Joplin-style pink sunglasses

I entered a troubling time warp, and the deeper I plunged into the closets, the less I recognized my mother. The dusty objects belonging to a life in the distant past bore witness to a woman I’d never known before. Their mass, their texture, their odour seeped into my mind and took root among my own memories, like parasites. My mother was thus reduced to a pile of disconnected artifacts smelling of mothballs.

I was annoyed by the way events were unfolding. What had started out as a simple matter of sweeping up was gradually turning into a laborious initiation. I looked forward to the time when I would finally reach the bottom of the closets, but their contents seemed inexhaustible.

It was at this point that I came upon a large packet of diaries – fifteen softcover notebooks filled with telegraphic prose. My hopes were rekindled. Maybe these diaries would allow me to put together the pieces of the puzzle?

I arranged the notebooks chronologically. The first one began on June 12, 1966.



My mother headed off to Vancouver when she was nineteen, feeling that a proper break with one’s family should be gauged in kilometres, and that her own falling-out deserved to be measured in continents. She ran away one June 25, at dawn, in the company of a hippie named Dauphin. The two confederates shared the cost of gas, shifts at the wheel, and long drags on thin joints rolled as tight as toothpicks. When not driving, my mother wrote in her notebook. Her script, very neat and orderly at the outset, quickly started to furl and unfurl, tracing the eddies and whorls of THC.

At the beginning of the second notebook, she had woken up alone on Water Street, barely able to stutter a few halting phrases in English. Notepad in hand, she went about communicating through ideograms, by turns sketching and gesturing. In a park, she made the acquaintance of a group of arts students who were busy crafting delicate origami manta rays out of psychedelic paper. They invited her to share their overcrowded apartment, their cushion-filled living room and a bed already occupied by two other girls. Every night at about two a.m., the three of them squeezed in under the sheets and smoked hand-rolled cigarettes while they discussed Buddhism.

My mother swore she would never return to the East Coast.

Whereas her first weeks in Vancouver were recounted with a wealth of detail, the rest of her journey grew more and more elliptical as the demands of nomadic life evidently supplanted those of narration. She never stayed anywhere more than four months, but would all of a sudden take off to Victoria, then Prince Rupert, San Francisco, Seattle, Juneau and a thousand other places she did not always bother to identify clearly. She scraped by thanks to various paltry expedients: hawking poems by Richard Brautigan to passersby, selling postcards to tourists, juggling, cleaning motel rooms, shoplifting in supermarkets.

Her escapade went on like this for five years. Then, in June 1970, we showed up at the Vancouver central station with two huge duffel bags just about bursting at the seams. My mother bought a train ticket to Montreal, and we crossed the continent in reverse, she curled up in her seat, me nestled in the depths of her uterus, an imperceptible comma in an as yet unwritten novel.

When she got back home, she briefly made up with my grandparents – a strategic truce aimed at securing the endorsement she needed from them to buy a house. In short order, she purchased a bungalow in Saint-Isidore Junction, a stone’s throw from Châteauguay, in what was to become the southern periphery of Montreal, but which at the time still retained something of the countryside, with its ancestral houses, its fallow land and its impressive population of porcupines.

Now saddled with a mortgage, she had to take work in Châteauguay – at a travel agency. Paradoxically, this job put an end to her youthful roving, and to her diaries too.

The last diary ended on an undated page, circa 1971. I closed it, deep in thought. Of all the omissions that punctuated my mother’s prose, the most important was Jonas Doucet.
Nothing was left of that transient sire but a stack of postcards scribbled with indecipherable handwriting, the final one dating back to 1975. I had often tried to crack the secret of those cards, but there was no way to make sense of their hieroglyphics. Even the postmarks were more revealing, as they limned out a path that began in southern Alaska, went up to the Yukon, then back down again toward Anchorage, and ended in the Aleutians – more precisely, on the American military base where my father had found employment.

Under the pile of postcards was a small, crumpled box and a letter from the U.S. Air Force.

I learned nothing new from the letter. The box, on...

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Nicolas Dickner
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ISBN 10 : 1846271665 ISBN 13 : 9781846271663
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Description du livre GRANTA BOOKS, United Kingdom, 2010. Paperback. État : New. New edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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). N° de réf. du libraire AA99781846271663

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Description du livre GRANTA BOOKS, United Kingdom, 2010. Paperback. État : New. New edition. Language: English . Brand New Book. 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). N° de réf. du libraire AA99781846271663

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Description du livre Granta Books. Paperback. État : new. BRAND NEW, Nikolski (New edition), Nicolas Dickner, Lazer Lederhendler, 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). N° de réf. du libraire B9781846271663

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Description du livre Granta Books, 2010. État : New. 2010. New ed. Paperback. A sweet and quirky novel, "Nikolski" follows three characters as they search for home while clinging to artifacts of their past: a misdirected compass, a book with no cover, and tales of piracy. Translator(s): Lederhendler, Lazer. Num Pages: 272 pages, b&w halftones integrated throughout. BIC Classification: FA; FYT. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 131 x 21. Weight in Grams: 226. . . . . . . N° de réf. du libraire V9781846271663

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Description du livre Granta Books. État : New. 2010. New ed. Paperback. A sweet and quirky novel, "Nikolski" follows three characters as they search for home while clinging to artifacts of their past: a misdirected compass, a book with no cover, and tales of piracy. Translator(s): Lederhendler, Lazer. Num Pages: 272 pages, b&w halftones integrated throughout. BIC Classification: FA; FYT. Category: (G) General (US: Trade). Dimension: 197 x 131 x 21. Weight in Grams: 226. . . . . . Books ship from the US and Ireland. N° de réf. du libraire V9781846271663

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