BOOK PROFILE
Nikolski

Nikolski

Published by Vintage/Random House of Canada

First published by Éditions Alto


Winner of Canada Reads 2010

Nicolas Dickner's debut novel takes readers on a magical mystery tour through the journeys of three young francophones whose lives come together and spin apart.

A bestseller in Quebec, Nikolski was brought to national attention when Michel Vézina chose to champion it for CBC's annual literary competition, Canada Reads 2010.


Nikolski




Introduction

Selected as the winner of Canada Reads 2010, Nikolski is a gorgeous, entrancing examination of the invisible connections that tie us to people who might seem to be strangers, and the ways in which fate intervenes to shape our paths through the world.

The first novel by Québécois writer Nicolas Dickner, this beautiful book follows a trio of young Canadians as they come of age in pre-millennial Montreal: Joyce, a 20-something Acadian steeped in her family's pirate legacy; nomadic Noah, who grew up criss-crossing western Canada in a trailer and is fascinated with the anthropology of trash; and a mysterious unnamed narrator, whose lodestar is an off-kilter compass. The links between these three unique characters are gradually, beautifully revealed through overlapping narratives told in Dickner's elegant, poetic prose.

Originally published in Quebec in 2005, Nikolski has already been recognized with a number of literary awards. In 2006, the novel won the distinguished Prix Anne-Hébert, presented to the best work of fiction in French by a writer from Quebec. The brilliant English translation by Lazer Lederhendler, published in 2008, was awarded both the Quebec Writers' Federation Award for Translation and the Governor General's Literary Award for Translation.


Author Biography

Nicolas Dickner has been called the "incarnation of the future of Quebec writing." A literary journalist (for Montreal alt-weekly Voir) and erstwhile world traveler, Dickner studied visual arts and literature in university. His first book, the short story collection L'Encyclopédie du petit cercle, came out in 2000 and went on to win several awards, including the Prix Adrienne-Choquette.

In 2005, Dickner published his breathtaking first novel, Nikolski, which earned rapturous reviews as well as Quebec's most prestigious literary awards, including the Prix des libraires du Québec, the Prix littéraire des collegians and the Prix Anne-Hébert (awarded annually to the best first work of fiction in French by a Quebecois writer). Nikolski also won France's Prix Lavinal Printemps des Lecteurs.

To date, Nikolski has been published in five languages and seven countries, with several more editions on the horizon. The English translation in Canada, by Lazer Lederhendler, was published in 2008 and won the Governor General's Award for French-to-English translation.

Dickner's second novel, Tarmac, came out in Quebec in April 2009. The English-language edition will also be translated by Lazer Lederhendler.


Translator Lazer Lederhendler


Lazer Lederhendler's thoughtful, elegant translation of Nikolski has earned the Montreal-based wordsmith two awards: the Governor-General's Award for French-to-English translation (in 2008), and the Quebec Writers' Federation translation prize (in 2009).

Those are just a few of the many awards Lederhendler has won or been nominated for over his career as a literary translator, which spans more than 30 years. His translation of The Immaculate Conception was also shortlisted for the 2006 Scotiabank Giller Prize, and won the Quebec Writers' Federation Award in 2007.

Lazer's latest work -- the translation of Pascale Quiviger's novel La Maison des temps rompus -- is forthcoming from House of Anansi Press in 2010.


 


Quotes

"Nikolski. . . offers a breathtakingly original perception of the world, mixing geography, cartography and longing in a language and a construction both intellectually sophisticated and emotionally affecting." -- Jean Thérèse Riley, The Globe and Mail

"[Nicolas] Dickner inspires the imagination of the reader to the point of ecstasy." -- Valérie Marin le Meslée, Le Monde

"Nicolas Dickner has a limitless imagination, great erudition and an inventive pen. He is the incarnation of the future of Quebec writing--nothing less." -- Pierre Cayouette, L'actualité

"An allusive, often beautifully written and entertaining novel (elegantly translated from Canadian French). Dickner's book leaves the reader with an airy impression of having dallied in an alternative universe. Perhaps that's what living in Canada is like." -- Philip Hoare, author of Leviathan, in The Independent (UK)

"Stylish, offbeat, poignant, and perceptive." -- David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas

"Dickner does for Montreal what Michael Ondaatje did for Toronto in his seminal novel In the Skin of a Lion. ... The story lingers in the mind long after the last page has been read, leaving the reader in its strange and wonderful orbit." -- Omar Majeed, The Gazette

"Sheherazade herself could not have devised a more intriguing tale than this fresh, whimsical contemporary Quebec novel. ... [Translator Lazer] Lederhendler's cadences and elegant vocabulary are a pleasure to read, while Dickner inexorably sweeps the reader along with the tide as the characters mature. This novel will bring a smile to your face and will be one you will want to read again." -- Ursula Fuchs, Winnipeg Free Press

"A carefully-crafted, sumptuous first novel that will restore your taste for flights of fancy and for treasure hunts in time and space." -- Benoît Jutras, Voi


Author's playlist

We asked Nicolas Dickner what music makes the perfect accompaniment to Nikolski. Here's what he had to say:

"Among the many albums I listened to during the year I spent in Germany, writing Nikolski, two albums by Leonard Cohen were especially important: I'm Your Man (1988) and The Best of Leonard Cohen (1975). I had bought those albums in a second-hand shop, thinking I was grown up enough to appreciate Cohen.

"The song Famous Blue Raincoat was a shock to me. I remember feeling hazy, thinking, 'Wow! This man can fit a whole novel in 20 verses!' All of a sudden, Nikolski's manuscript looked long and bloated. I threw it into the wastebasket, rushed out to the movie theatre, hit my head on a heavy glass door somewhere on the way, ended up at the hospital, and came back home with four stitches running through the ridge of my brow. I dug my manuscript out of the wastebasket and told myself to be a man and finish the book -- but honestly, I don't think I have ever recovered from listening to Cohen's music."


Author's Book Picks

We asked Nicolas Dickner for his favourite Canadian fiction. Here are the books he recommends, in both official languages.

Barney's Version by Mordecai Richler
Barney's Version is a unique work of character crafting: it's a wonder to see how Richler can create a character such as Barney Panofsky, who is both lovable and hateful. The author's storytelling is remarkable, making clever use of patterns and repetition, all the while subtly mixing tragedy and comedy.

Microserfs and JPod by Douglas Coupland
Ever since I read Douglas Coupland's first novel, I've been drawn to his idiosyncratic narrative language: his use of brand names, memes, slang, non-linear sentences. While Coupland is never afraid to experiment, his novels nevertheless remain classic pieces of storytelling. Two of my favourites were Microserfs (1992) and its sequel/variation/echo, JPod (2005). Reading both in a row is also a good way to remember how amazingly fast our technological culture has changed in the space of less than 15 years.

Pattern Recognition by William Gibson
William Gibson is probably best known as a science fiction writer and a pioneer of the cyberpunk movement. However, one of his latest novels, Pattern Recognition, is a powerful example of what an SF writer can achieve when looking at our present world, depicting it in a fascinating and unbalancing way. Overwhelmingly intelligent, and sharply written.

Je suis un écrivain japonais and L'Énigme du retour by Dany Laferrière
Written after a five-year hiatus, these two novels hold a special place in Laferrière's body of work. They're not only comeback novels, but a reinvention of the novelist's art. L'Énigme du retour is a marvel of narrative economy, at once dense, poetic and sober. The novel received an insane (and justified) amount of public attention.

Le soleil des gouffres by Louis Hamelin
This ambitious, hectic novel is a great illustration of the new continental consciousness that arose from the middle of the '90s, as well as of the apocalyptic anxiety we've been witnessing ever since. Hamelin's writing is excessive and challenging, but never obscure. A brilliant novel by one of our greatest fiction writers.


Links

Canada Reads 2010: A video interview with Nicolas Dickner

Canada Reads 2010: A video interview with translator Lazer Lederhendler

BookLounge: A video interview with Nicolas Dickner

Canada Reads 2010: Panelist Michel Vézina describes being hooked by Nikolski

Canada Reads 2010: Blogger Flannery reflects on the family truths in Nikolski

Canada Reads 2010: Translator Lazer Lederhendler on ferrying Nikolski across 'the tricky gulf between French and English'

Canada Reads 2010: Editor Pamela Murray describes how Nikolski made the leap from French to English

Canada Reads 2010: Nicolas Dickner reveals the story behind his novel Nikolski

Canada Reads 2010: Designer Scott Richardson opens up about the cover of Nikolski

CBC Arts: Canada Reads 2010 chooses a winner

CBC Books author page: Nicolas Dickner

Quill & Quire: Nikolski wins Canada Reads

The Walrus: Review of Nikolski

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