Nikolski – Nicolas Dickner, copyright 2005. (Translated by Lazer Lederhendler)
Publisher: Vintage Canada
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: Canada Reads 2010 Winner
I don’t know where to begin with this wonderful story. It twists, it turns, goes up, goes down, it comes together and it drifts apart again. As you can imagine, that makes it incredibly hard to review; I have never read anything like it before. After reading the blurbs, I was expecting another typical multi-thread story line that comes together at some point, and, in a way, that’s what it was. At the same time, it was very different, but I can’t say how it was different without giving away important elements of the story. You see my dilemma? What I can say, is that it takes place in chunks, spread over ten years, between 1989 and 1999 and centres around the lives of two very different individuals.
Noah is a Chipewyan Indian from the north-western tip of the southern plains of the middle of nowhere, Canada. He and his mother Sarah travel back and forth between the Rockies and Ontario in accordance with the ebb and flow of seasonal labour. The son of a runaway Acadian rambler from northern Quebec and a wandering, abused Indian from Grand Prairie, Alberta, Noah is, in the truest sense, a nomad. Wanting to get out of the drifting business, he finds a more sedentary existence in Montreal studying Archaeology. Despite his new found love for a fixed address, Noah remains a free spirit and still manages to get himself involved with the most obscure of people, including an archaeology professor of waste studies.
Joyce Doucet is also a different sort. Descended (apparently) from a long line of pirates, all this restless young lady wants is to be a pirate herself. But girls can’t be pirates, or so her friends tell her. One day Joyce finds a story in the Newspaper about another Doucet woman who is on her way to the hoosegow for modern-day piracy. Inspired by her would-be pirate cousin, Joyce sets out to start making her way in the world and begin carving out a name for herself in the pirate world. Unfortunately, piracy is nowhere near as glamorous as it was in the good-old-days and Joyce finds herself dumpster diving in the backstreets of Montreal. Needless to say, Joyce, like Noah, is very much a free spirit; one who seeks the freedom that Noah tries so hard to leave behind.
There is a third semi-protagonist, the unnamed narrator, who works in a bookshop on St. Laurent Blvd. in Montreal. His role in the story is minor at best. There are no major plot events that centre on him, instead, his role when he enters the story, is to provide some means of connection for the other characters.
Now that I consider it, this book isn’t so hard to sum up. This story is very much about two free spirits with nothing and everything in common. One wishes to stop running away, but is unable to completely escape his nomadic ways. The other one wants nothing more that to leave her past behind, but, in doing so, finds herself running straight into its waiting arms. The transient nature of these characters makes them life-long outcasts in their own world, but my heart quickly warmed to each of them and I became engrossed in the eccentricities and other capricious details of their itinerant lives.
While this book may not have been particularly easy to review, it was a marvelous story. At 290 pages, it is a short, fast-paced read. I look forward to reading more of Nicolas Dickner’s work.
RATING: Hard to Bleat