Blog prompt 4: Nikolski

In today’s class, we divided into groups so that you could explore in more detail some of the themes you described as being important in Nicolas Dickner’s novel Nikolski.

For this week’s blog prompt, tell us a bit about the theme your group discussed and why this plays such a crucial role in the text.  Then, give an example of a key passage that connects to or illustrates this theme. Explain why you think this passage is so significant to this aspect of the novel.

As with our other blog prompts, the due date for this is one week from the date I’ve posted it.  You will likely want to complete this assignment while your group discussion is still fresh in your mind.

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33 Responses to Blog prompt 4: Nikolski

  1. Nikki says:

    I missed the group discussion but I would say that throughout the book Nikolski, an important theme was family. Family would be classified as mother, father and then friends/spouses. In this book, Joyce came from a family of pirates. Noah, from a family of nomads.
    “Joyce was thus the last of the Doucet’s in the village. A true descendant of her forbears, she had developed a solitary personality that lent her an air or precocious and troubling maturity.” (52).

    This passage illustrated how Joyce is like her forefathers. A persons family really shapes what that person will be like later in life. Joyce’s family were pirates. Although many fell of the grid, Joyce decides to continue the legacy. Which becomes clear at the end of the book when the police are searching her house, after she was found stealing credit card numbers and emailing them to others and stealing money. It was interesting to see Joyce, who was told by her family not to follow in their footsteps, actually become a pirate in the end. This was just one prime example of how family was so important throughout this novel.

  2. Peter C says:

    We talked about social and technological change throughout the novel. This plays an important role in Nikolski because the past and future are often discussed. By analyzing different scenarios that occur social and technological change can answer many questions. Joyce and Noah both look back into the past of their families and see how the world has changed. Some examples of the things we discussed are, the usage of floppy disks, Lizander in general, Joyce’s expectations for the computer to blow up, Joyce’s lifeline and fateline making the pie symbol in blood when she cuts her hand, Maelo’s trip to Venezuela – big social jump.

    I though the pie reference was a very interesting topic to discuss about lifeline and fateline. One member of our group inferred that pie is never-ending and this is interesting because it goes right along with the importance of history and how things have evolved. Joyce’s realization of this as she looks at her hand goes right along with her family’s past. Pirates and buccaneers as the narrator describes them, this explains her adventurous tendencies. She is very creative and thinks outside the box as this is the scene when she escapes from the security guards at the Metro station when she’s trying to steal a computer in the garbage. Later on during this passage she explains how she needs to look out for surveillance cameras as well; another sign of technological change occurring during this time.

  3. Kathryn says:

    In our group we had talked about synchronicity. We discussed the 3 headed book, luck, the compass, and the concept of relocation in terms of indigenous nomads. We also discussed these connects to the concept of family relationships. A couple of things that stood out were Noah’s mother and her nomadic life style and the effect it had on Noah. Noah felt a drive to settle down quickly because of his nomadic upbringing.

    Also, the compass in relation to Noah’s father’s existence. On page 10 Noah says “That compass came back to me in astounding detail. How could I have forgotten it? It was the only tangible proof of my father’s existence and had been the polestar of my childhood, the glorious instrument with which I’d crossed a thousand imaginary oceans!” This show not only Noah’s disconnect with his father but also how he had moved on from his childhood, the nomadic lifestyle and now the adventures he would make up as a kid. Yet, like many of the novels we’ve read, it’s nearly impossible to truly escape your past.

  4. Matthew P says:

    (Sorry! Here is my quote that goes along with my explanation of garbage)
    “The garbagemen have finished their work…wholly obvious of the story they’ve just taken part in”(Dickner 68).

  5. Sarah says:

    My group focused on the theme of “synchronicity,” meaning patterns, luck, chance and coincidence of events. We began by discussing how everything in the book seemed to work in a circular way, for example the “Three-Headed-Book” seemed to make its way around to all the characters in the novel. Besides that we discussed maps, indigenous people and how the characters all meet at the airport in the end. Each character seemed to be connected to one another through this theme. This theme is most evident at the end of the book when everything comes together:

    “I bring the map closer to the Three-Headed-Book, like the last remaining piece of a puzzle. My hunch is correct. The tear fits the binding exactly! This map, then, was torn out of the book some years ago… I stand there open-mouthed, contemplating the implications of this strange puzzle. Here is the discovery that clouds the issue rather than clarifying it” (287).

    This final page brings together the theme of synchronicity as perfectly as it can be brought together because as we discussed in class the books ends with many questions still left unanswered. And so it continues on.

  6. Lauren says:

    My small group discussed the importance of repetition or doubling in Nikolski. An obvious example is when Thomas Saint-Laurent and Noah are having a discussion and Thomas says, “Civil servants mistrust archaeologists. They prefer treasure hunters” (167). Treasure hunting and archaeology are repeated throughout the novel and are often go hand in hand in regards to searching through garbage. Travel is also repeated throughout the novel and it is clear that each character does a fair share of traveling. Sarah never stops traveling throughout Canada and the United States; while Jonas wishes he had ever stopped traveling on the seas. The Three-Headed Book supported the theme of repetition because it found its way to each one of the characters. Finally, at the end of the novel the puzzle is solved and the repetition is no longer after the map is returned to its home within the Three-Headed Book.

  7. Matthew P says:

    My group discussed the theme of garbage and the role it plays in the book. The most important message about garbage that the author is trying to convey to the reader is that garbage is what makes a person who they are and reveals certain aspects of their identity. For example, the story with Noah going through his mother’s old belongings. This in itself explains who and what kind of a person his mother was through trash. Furthermore, if you were to take a look in a random person’s trash, you can discover various aspects of that person. Trash is something commonly overlooked and is seen as useless and unimportant, it is interesting that this book took that and flipped it around looking at the glass as half full with such a “Dirty” subject.

  8. Evan says:

    Our group discussed family relationships: Throughout the book we see this theme shapes the characters lives and also the theme never ends, it continues to the end and to me is key to the book and really sets the tone. From Noahs relationship with his mother (or lack there of) to Noah being Simon, and Joyce and Noah having a family relationship it really shows the dynamic qualities this book offers. One part that gripped me was Noah and Simon’s relationship. It is clear he was the father from the beginning but there is that doubt that Dickner leaves with you early on to whether he actually is. Noah doesn’t demand Arizna discloses it and to me that shows his maturity with the whole situation. Referring to Simon and Noah at the ocean: “Noah grins and unrolls the bamboo mat in the exact middle of the beach, where he can easily supervise the boy. He is fascinated by the tremendous amount of energy that radiates from this little homo sapien. Every moment he leaps out of the water with a new treasure…..” Noah describes how he in fact had never visited the ocean. This whole passage shows Noah’s growing maturity and his further transformation into becoming a father figure. This passage to me really is the point where i think Noah realizes what is happening with his life. Simon is with him and he can just relax by the ocean. From this point on you can really see a growing relationship between the two. And as it turns out they end up leaving together and Dickner really leaves it up to us to decides what unfolds with everyone’s life and their family relationship’s .

  9. Nigel says:

    My group discussed the theme family relationships. The novel deals with this issue throughout the book and it is really a theme that influences the decisions of the characters on their journeys. The stories of both Joyce and Noah are both tied to family relationships. All the stories in the book generally seem to relate to family in one way or another. Noah left his mother to find something new and ends up living with a Dominican immigrant who is running a family business. Joyce left her small fishing town for Montreal in search of what her mother’s past may have been about, as well as to leave the family life she did not like. In a way the book is about looking for clues about your family past, but you have to leave the family to achieve this.
    The passage I thought was particularly important to the theme of family relationships and the novel is on page 68, when Joyce is about to leave Tete a Baleine, “Joyce smiles at the anachronism. Then she gets serious again. If Uncle Jonas had the guts to haunt the icy docks of Leningrad when he was fourteen, who can prevent Joyce, no less a Doucette than he was-from doing as much?(68)” Joyce is about to ask the truck driver who looks like Vladimir Lenin for a ride to Montreal. Joyce is considering forfeiting her journey when this truck driver suddenly reminds her of Vladimir Lenin. Lenin was on a postcard from her Uncle Jonas. Family seems to be the ultimate factor in her decision to leave Tete a Baleine. Uncle Jonas had left home for Russia a long time ago, and it this thought which pushes Joyce to do what she does. If her uncle can be as adventurous as he was, why can’t Joyce be the same? The family relationship she has at home is not working for her, so she leaves to follow the footsteps of her mother and become a pirate. It seems to be family that inspires her but also sends her away. This passage of course is important because it is a turning point in the novel, similar to when Noah is left by the side of the road by Sarah in the prairies. It is the point where the characters head off into uncertain territory to find out who they really are, and how this connects to their past and future.

  10. Hannah B. says:

    Our group topic was ‘identity’ in Nicolas Dickner’s “Nikolski”. Joyce, Noah and the narrator all have one thing in common in regards to ancestry, in that they are all related. Each of them have completely different identities. We briefly talked about Joyce. She grew up thinking her mother had died, and her father absent from her home for the most part. She created a strong bond with her grandfather and that bond really shaped the type of person she became. Joyce spent her childhood hearing pirate stories about her distant relatives. It was these relatives, these adventurers, that she wished were around her not her family members that were currently crowding her life. She has a clipping she found in the newspaper of a possible relative who was arrested for computer piracy. Joyce continues to reference this clipping throughout the novel as a reminder of her identity, a reminder of what she wants to become.
    We also talked about the very first scene. Particularly the following passage: “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.” (p.7) Everyone says that you can tell a lot about a person about their material objects and that is true. In this case the narrator finds that he may not have known his mother as well as he originally thought he did. Identity is a very large theme in “Nikolski” each character is struggling with their own identity. They are young and still learning much about themselves, they all have very complex lives and families. Joyce was born in a small town and lived there for a decade while Noah moved around his entire life never belonging to one place. Joyce lived with her father, cousins, uncles, aunts, grandfather while Noah only had her mother. Each character had their identity shaped by their own lives.

  11. Matt Graham says:

    Our group had repitiotion of which there is much to be found in this eclectic Novel.
    One of which, the theme of pirates can be found throughout the book in most of the passages with Joyce in them. Another is the mentioning of the Doucette family. A quite literal example of this occurs on page 48-9, “Appearances notwithstanding, he assured her, Joyce was the last descendant of a long line of pirates going back all the way to Alanzo and Hermenegilde Doucette, also known-depending on circumstances, and location and the subtleties of the prevailing grammar,- as Doucet, Doucett, Douchette, Douchet, Douchez, Doucoit, Duchette, Ducette, Dowcette, Dusett, Ducit, or Dousette.”

    Post-cards are also a very repetitive theme throughout the book. A prime example of this can be found on page 123 where we are told that Noah has written over 500 letters to his mother over the last four years. And on page 59 this time pertaining to Joyce, “Uncle Jonas’s postcards, misshapen and covered with purplish jellyfish were all that came back with the tide.” And throughout the rest of the book during Noah’s chapters there is typically at least one mention of post-cards.

    Another theme is travel and navigation. On page 13 the narrator reminisces of his past geography courses and talks of different geographical terms and locations. And later in the book there is the theme of the travel guides with Joyce and the bookkeeper.

    In many ways repetition is all over this book and it left our group with much to discuss and even though we were pretty thorough there were many other reoccurring themes that we didn’t even get to.

  12. Nicolaus F says:

    There are multiple different veins of comparison that run through Nikolski, however it is often difficult to elicit any succinct conclusions from the reflections of aspects of one character’s life or beliefs onto another character. The parallel between Noah and the narrator is an interesting one because Dickner sets up a familial tie between the two characters who seem to have the same father as evidenced by the narrator’s possession of the Nikolski Compass, but who are also reported to have mothers of opposing tendencies. Near the end of the book it is revealed that “Noah had never set foot on a beach before coming to Margarita Island, and this belated discovery has overwhelmed him” (Dickner 221). It does not seem that the narrator on the other hand would be overwhelmed by the sight of a beach, for although he admits “I’ve never set foot on a beach,” (interestingly enough in the exact phrasing as the line about Noah’s virgin experience) before he says this he is equating the sound of the diesel garbage truck to the sound of waves breaking (Dickner 4). The other clearly opposing elements of their heritage lies in the claim that the narrator’s mother worked in a travel agency and “could have gone around the world for free, but she preferred to spend the summer in the backyard […]. Ultimately I think she liked travel guides better than traveling” (Dickner 238). Noah’s mother on the other hand thrives on the move and is one representation of the nomadic presence that is also significant in the book. The reason this work falls short in my opinion is because there is no reason why nomadic traditions are juxtaposed with sedentary lifestyles, no significance or greater context to which even any of the unresolved binaries are relevant in terms of plotting or thematic elements. All it seems the reader is left with is the sense that Dickner is capable of making elusive and striking connections, unless one of the major themes is simply a reflection on the arbitrary but still present connection between strangers, and the role or lack there of, of fate and chance in bringing these connections to light.

  13. Alex M. says:

    The theme my group discussed was synchronicity, a coincidence of events that seem related, as it pertains to Nikolski. In our discussion group we talked about certain aspects of the book that illustrate this theme; the Three-Headed Book, maps, luck, the unreliable compass, and the fascination with indigenous people and nomads. We noticed that there was a reoccurring issue of searching and relocation, which seems to be in parallel with the use of maps. Also, the Three-Headed Book finding it’s way into each of the character’s hands at least once was interesting in terms of the apparent synchronicity in the text. There were actually two quotes, one from the beginning of Nikolski and one from the end that seem to illustrate our theme well:

    “One could therefore deduce that the compass pointed towards Nikolski, an answer that struck me as rather satisfactory, even though it had the disadvantage of clouding the issue instead of elucidating it. Nothing is perfect” (p 13) and “I stand there open-mouthed, contemplating the implications of this strange puzzle. Here is a discovery that clouds the issue rather than clarifying it. Nothing is perfect” (p 287).

    These two passages are almost identical. The book begins with a clarity that elicits confusion and ends with one. At the beginning, the realization of where the compass points to does not actually answer any questions about the compass itself, like why it does not point North. Similarly, at the end of Nikolski, the page that has been missing is returned to the Three-Headed Book yet no questions are answered. The narrator does not know when the map was torn out or why, all he knows is that it has been returned. The synchronicity between these two quotes is evident and the idea of nothing being perfect is the common theme. Dickner’s point may be that even when one answer is brought to light there are still so many other questions that one could ask. It seems he wants us to understand that wasting too much time on finding all the answers is pointless because “nothing is perfect.”

  14. Azure G says:

    “This enigmatic book assembles, under the anonymity of a single binding — or what’s left of it — three destinies once scattered over various libraries, or even over various garbage dumps. Which leaves outstanding the question as to what sort of twisted mind could have conceived of such an amalgamation, and to what end. For now, I wonder if the girl will come back looking for her three-headed book. If she neglects to, we could naturally consider it outs and put it up for sale. But it would be impossible to sell this curiosity. In its present state it would be worth no more than fifty cents. It would be irresponsible (154).”

    The theme my group talked about was garbage, and how it plays such a bizarre yet crucial role in the novel. Thomas Saint-Laurent had it right with being so oddly obsessed with the garbage that liters the lives of everyone. Garbage tells a story, and most of the times those stories are ones that people tried to forget by tossing them into the nearest trash or waste dump. Sometimes though, garbage is what helps people move on and start a new chapter in their life. This is the case for our three protagonists in Nikolski. First, we have the unnamed book store owner, who starts off the novel with him watching the garbage collectors haul away 30 bags of his mother’s existence. For him, sorting and getting rid of this garbage was his way of moving on. The book store owner also has another point in the story where garbage is such a monumental thing for him; at the end when he sells all his precious books. Although he doesn’t necessarily consider his books garbage, he no longer needs them, so he decides to sell them all for $1. Selling his books is his way of launching himself out of the town where he’s resided all his life and finally start something new.
    Secondly, we have Joyce, who makes a sort of career with taking other peoples garbage and turning it into essentially, treasure. Joyce went around at night scouring through garbage bins and collecting misc. pieces of technology to mold them altogether into functioning computers. She took other peoples trash and made it her crown jewels, unfortunately this came back to bite her when she had to run from the police.
    Finally, we come to the quote posted above and how it relates to Noah, our final protagonist. This book meant a lot to Noah, it’s what helped him learn to read and provided constant entertainment when on the road with his mother. It was important to him. Later however, we find out that the book-with-no-face is actually a three-headed book, trash collected from other books and bound into one, a montage of garbage. Despite it being basically garbage, this book was an essential part of the story, at one point or another finding its way into the arms of all three protagonists. At the end of the novel, when Noah sees the book once more, he doesn’t take it with him as a momento of his past; instead he adds the map to it once more. This book/garbage helped Noah move on in his life as well, leaving the past behind him and steadily trudging forward.

  15. Alyson H says:

    Our group discussed repetition in Nikolski. I focused on travel and post cards. For example, Sarah and Noah write to Jonas. As well as Sarah writing to Jonas before she had Noah. Noah writes his mom trying desperately to find a way to keep in contact with her. On page 123 the narrator tells us ” [Noah] has written more than five hundred letters to his mother over the last four years…letteres are addressed to General Delivery.” For them it wasn’t about all the fun advenutres they were having, but a way to keep in contact. Unlike the post cards tacked up in Grandfather Lyzandre’s house. The “illegible post cards [would be] dispatched from every port in the world…” (pg 51) For Joyce, these post cards were her way of escaping from her life and have wonderful adventures. For Joyce, the post cards represented freedom; she didn’t have to help out around the house, she didn’t have to do anything, she was a pirate! For Noah, the post cards were not about wonderful adventures, but staying in contact with his parents; the post cards were more of a curse, Noah just wanted to stay in one place with his parents.

  16. Timmy T says:

    “As a rule, archaeologists don’t take much interest in nomads. The more a population travels, the fewer traces it leaves behind. They prefer to study civilizations that settle down, that build cities and produce large amounts of garbage. There’s nothing more interesting than garbage. Garbage teaches us more than infrastructures, buildings, or monuments. Garbage reveals what everything else is trying to hide.” – Page 132
    The theme my group discussed was the idea of discovery, and garbage being a key artifact and “treasure” in the novel. There is a fair amount of pirate references within the text, and garbage, used books, and any forms of “waste” are considered “treasure” in the story. Each character has their own forms of discovery. While Joyce chooses to dumpster dive for her treasures Noah is in the middle of some archaeological fieldwork. Each of these characters were abandoned by their parents as well, so they could also subjectively feel like discarded waste waiting to be discovered.

  17. Molly says:

    Our group spoke about synchronism in Nikolski. We defined synchronism as the appearance of patterns and chance throughout the book. The repetition of motifs and objects and the parallels in each of the character’s journeys all added amusement and enrichment to the narrative and also gave the book a sense of cohesion. But more significant than the abounding examples of patterns in Nikolski was the over-arching sense of synchronism and mystery that gave the book profundity. As was said in class on Tuesday, the book poses more questions than it gives answers. It’s more philosophical than message-based, and the presence of synchronism are part of this theme. Nicolas Dickner gives us three very dissimilar characters and then weaves together their lives with fish, garbage, Montreal, the Caribbean, books, Tete-a-la-Beleine, and questions of identity and family. With so many overlapping motifs and doubling scenes, we begin to suspect that by the end all three characters will come together and some gleaming “Aha!” will occur. But it doesn’t end like that—the closest that we get is a vague understanding of the family ties that they share. It more or less ends with a question mark. The nameless narrator, upon discovering the missing page of the Three-Headed Book says only, “Here is a discovery that clouds the issue rather than clarifying it. Nothing is perfect.” And then he tosses the book back into the clearance box. We are left to think “How much can we really explain in life?” I think this is a perfect question to be at the center of a book. Students of literature are often tasked with extracting every possible significance out of every sentence of a book. It’s refreshing to encounter an author who’s basically shrugging his shoulders, but telling a really good story on the side.

  18. Jake A says:

    “A series of waves ripples through the sheets when Simon crawls over to the other side of the mattress. Noah shivers as he undresses, pulls on a dry pair of woolen socks, and slides under the starfish. It’s strange to be able to recognize the least little bump in the mattress, and to find the discomfort both familiar and reassuring” (pg. 278).
    My group discussed technological and social change. These types of changes are strewn all throughout the book. For example, Joyce created technological change by scraping together garbage in order to make a computer named William Kidd. Noah induced social change by moving to Montreal, Venezuela, and back to Montreal. In both instances the characters are inducing this change to better themselves, moreover to find who they really are. The quote I chose is an example of social change, because Noah is now living in his old room again where he lived with Maelo. Noah is similar to the Acadians in this respect. He too left Canada, and came back only to find his true self and culture. Noah is sleeping with Simon, which he finds a little discomforting. However he is beginning to feel peace of mind in the realization that he is Simon’s father, and it is only right to sleep with him. He is finally finding himself, this makes him happy for Simon and himself. For as Noah goes on to describe on the next page had many sleepless nights on this exact bed. Some of these restless nights were caused by, “ …road maps trying to guess where his mother was, the nights he doubted his mother existed,…the nights thinking about his father.” (pg. 279) Noah will be there for his son, unlike his parents were for him. He is identifying himself as a true father figure to this somewhat unexpected addition to his life, and this brings him comfort. He is finding his identity. This is seen by the reference to the, “starfish”. Although Noah didn’t feel at home on the ocean like his father, he is fusing his identities. Noah is a Dad, and he wants to be the best one that he can.

  19. Veronica B says:

    “Where do old IBMs go to die?Where is the secret burial ground of TRS-80s? The charnel of Commodore 64s? The ossuary of Texas Instruments?
    These are the questions that are on Joyce’s mind as she picks through teh rubbish of Little Italy. So far, she has salvaged a host of useful items- a radio, a fan, a work stool, vinyl records- but as far as computers go, her only bite has been an ancient, charred Atari. And yet people must get rid of their old, obsolescent computers.
    Behind St-Hubert Plaza, she comes upon a colleague ransacking the bottom of a trash container. His head dives down, bobs up, dives again, while his flashlight sporadically illuminates the surrounding walls…
    ‘Is the fishing good?'”

    I love this passage for many reasons. First, the theme of garbage is on the topmost level of reading. Again, the reader is faced with the issue of TRASH and EXCESS. Joyce found many useful things in a pile of “garbage” that someone tossed away because they didn’t need/want/have use for/thought it was broken/whatever reason! This not only shows what can be found in the garbage, but offers a criticism of those who throw away such useful items. But Joyce wants to know where she can find computers. This alludes to the fact that there are huge graveyards of trash hidden from sight, touching on the wastefulness of this society and bringing up the idea that all this waste is useful stuff!
    It’s funny to me, too, that the fishing references never stop. The language that describes Joyce and her coworker digging through the “junk” reminds me of the ocean and the motion of water. The “bite” of the Atari and the “catch” that she is looking for continuously brings the reader back into her history and the importance of fish and fishing and the ocean in the book altogether.

  20. Camille says:

    My group talked about the family relationships in Nikolski. We found that there was a general family dynamic that existed in all of the characters’ lives where they had both been abandoned by a crucial family member, and then abandoned others themselves. We found that this
    The particular scene that I pulled out regarding this topic was when Joyce found out that her mother was not dead but had actually just left her when she was a baby.
    “My mother is dead!” Joyce snarled, grabbing her cousin by the collar.
    “Your mother’s not dead. She ran away! She is living in New York.”
    “No, Toronto!” another cousin chimed in.
    “Chicago!” (pp 56).
    If I were in Joyce’s position, I think that what would have bothered me most about the situation was that everyone else in her family, even the other children, knew that she had been abandoned all along. I think that she might have been a different character had she known all along that her mother had left her. I say this because it seems that the whole reason why Joyce took off for Montreal was tied up in this sudden urge to reconnect with the mother that she thought she never had. Perhaps if she had been raised from birth knowing that her mother did not want her, then she would have been content to stay with the family that she had.
    When our group looked at all of the characters together, we saw that most of their actions were driven by their family relationships. We noticed that all of the characters were more or less alone throughout most of the novel, and that they were all longing for the very person who had left them, as if the people who they left themselves were not good enough.

  21. Cassie says:

    I picked two relating passages for the theme of social change in Nikolski. The first is on page 59, the paragraph starting with “the house survived Lyzandre Doucet by only a few weeks”. The second is the scene where Joyce finds the newspaper article on Leslie Lynn Doucette on the bottom of page 65. These seemingly unrelated articles mark the drastic changes in Joyce’s life that spur her to run away to Montréal.

    The moment that Lyzandre’s house is swept away by the tide is important because it designates a turning point in the novel. Lyzandre is a major influence on Joyce’s decision to become a pirate, but he is a manifestation of physical pirating – sailing, looting and pillaging, a male dominated but fascinating world. The physical destruction of his house, constructed from an actual ship and bearing the remains of the pirating lifestyle, signals the end of that chapter in Joyce’s life.

    The article takes up where Lyzandre left off. Fueled by the discovery of a female pirate in her family, Joyce hops a ride to Montréal as soon as she can with nothing but a newspaper clipping and a duffel bag. The find sparks a new life for Joyce as an identity thief, the modern day William Kidd.

    Together, the passages illustrate how Joyce is spurred to her life of crime.

  22. Fiona says:

    “I know better than anyone that we look like a bunch of nerds with out plastic bags full of humus. But the truth is, we’re ahead of our time. Archaeology is the discipline of the future. Every time an old IBM finds its way to the dump, it becomes an artifact. Artifacts are the main products of our civilization. When all the computer experts are unemployed, we’ll still have millions of years of work ahead of us. That is the fundamental paradox of archaeology. Our discipline will reach its peak at the end of the world.”

    Our group discussed technology and social chance. I feel that this passage reflects this theme, in addition to the theme of garbage. I think is really interesting how Thomas Saint-Laurent emphasizes, not only the importance of trash, but also how it serves as an artifact of civilizations and as a means of understanding civilizations. In this passage, Thomas Saint-Laurent considers computers as an object or feature of our society, reflecting the theme of technology in the novel. Computers and technology present themselves as an important and prominent feature of the novel to several of the characters.

    Additionally, archaeology becomes an important element of the novel, as several characters develop personal relationships with the field. The theme of archaeology reflects the notion of societal change in Nikolski. Throughout the novel, we see how elements of society become artifacts that reflect societal transformations. In this passage, Thomas Saint-Laurent discusses computers in the future becoming artifacts of our society, in the context of his archaeological research. This idea demonstrates how prominent and fundamental technology is in our society, and because of how rapidly society transforms, they will one day become relics of and windows into our civilization.

  23. Paul D. says:

    “The two trash collectors hop down form their vehicles and stand there, dumbstruck, contemplating the mountain of bags piled up 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.” pg 4

    Our group discussed the significance of garbage in Nikolski. At the very beginning of the book, on the second page, the plot begins by talking about garbage. Noah’s mother has passed away and he is disposing of all her worthless artifacts that she had collected in her travels. Although they may not be worth much, the items do hold some sort of sentimental value to Noah. When he is throwing them away he wonders why he is discovering all these secrets about his mother now when she has been one of his only close family members. He thought she might have told him some stories about her life like where the cigarillo box full of seashells came from or the hundreds of photographs together with the ancient camera. What we learn from garbage is that it can help characterize people and make generalized conclusions of their personality. In today’s consumer culture, trash is viewed by most people as a vanishing object. However, in reality it effects our lives and influences the world when were gone. For example, the mothers belongings are not just being thrown away and forgotten. They are raising questions and emotions about her. Another aspect of garbage that this book shows is how secondhand book stores re introduce other peoples “garbage” into society. It is recycled knowledge that would be destroyed if it wasn’t for these used bookstores. Instead they sell something cheap that goes a long way for whoever procures it.

  24. Ian M says:

    Pg 125 “What fascinating refuse—virgin paper! ‘Anti-refuse’ would be a more accurate term, seeing how it ends up in the trash without having been used. And not just anti-refuse but ‘anti-artifact’ too—an object that in itself coveys no information.”

    Our group discussed the theme of trash in Nikolski. This theme is created through the character Professor Thomas Saint-Laurent, an anthropology teacher who Joyce encounters not too long after coming to Montreal, and who becomes Noah’s mentor as the novel progresses. He has actualized the quote “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure” to the point of making a science out of it. Trash/refuse becomes artifacts, but also what is thrown out can be used to analyze the present society.

    Noah becomes fascinated with trash upon taking his first course with Saint-Laurent, but Joyce finds the joy of dumpster diving on her own, driven by the need for a computer. The two characters are connected by the character Maelo, who is Joyce’s boss and Noah’s landord, but never cross paths with one another in the novel. Noah’s interest in garbage can best be summed up on page 132; “There’s nothing more interesting than garbage. Garbage teaches us more than infrastructures, buildings or monuments. Garbage reveals what everything else tries to hide.”

  25. Megan N. says:

    “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” (4).

    My group discussed the theme of garbage throughout the book. We found many parts in the book where garbage is noted. Some of these scenes include the scene from above which is in the beginning of the book when the narrator is cleaning out his mother’s house. Another time that we found where garbage was discussed was when Joyce is dumpster diving and Noah starts to learn about dumpster diving. Joyce and Noah are putting old parts together. We discussed how you can characterize and learn about someone by what kind of trash they have.

    Throughout our discussion I kept asking myself why Dickner found it so important to include this theme in the book, so I took a look at the link where he discusses garbage and archeology. He says that from an archeologist point of view, garbage is what tells the most about us. He calls garbage “a weird, twisted diary of our lives”.

  26. Shane W. says:

    “After this, everything happens very quickly: Sarah, without a word, hugs him with all her strength, and then boots him out of the car. Before he has time to add another word, she puts the car in gear and tears off in a clatter of gravel, with the passenger door still open.
    A minute later Noah finds himself alone on the side of the road, backpack agape, an old map of the Caribbean in his hand and a ball of asphalt in his stomach. He breathes deeply, folds the map, and slips it into his shirt pocket. The he adjusts his backpack and starts walking east, eyes squinting directly into the sun, which is still suspended on the horizon.” (Page 41-42).

    My group discussed the relationships that the characters have with their families, or the lack of relationships. It seems that all of the characters long to get away from the lives they live and search for what they believe they are missing. The character of Noah epitomizes this belief, as he longs to leave his nomadic life to go to college in Montreal. In the scene above Noah finally is leaving his mother to go off on his own, and it seems his mother is not too pleased. Noah, like the other characters in this book, feel like they have been abandoned by their families and all long to go off and find their lost family members or figure out the past. They all strike out on their own journeys, but in doing so they are abandoning others themselves. Noah does not realize that he is doing the same thing his father did before him, abandoning his mother on the road. In regards to the other characters, the nameless narrator is abandoning his past by throwing away all of his mothers possessions and moving away, and Joyce longs to find her real mother and abandons those around her to pursue the life of a pirate. Overall, all of the characters experience a sense of abandonment and set off to fill the emptiness that they feel by trying to solve the many questions that surrounds their families’ pasts.

  27. Laurel Ganem says:

    Our group’s topic was that of Identity within the novel. Due to the broadness of this concept, we wanted to look at it in a more specific light in order to focus down our discussion. We talked a lot about our own experiences of identity, and the depth of the concept itself. A situation we discussed was that of hidden identity, and the idea that no matter how well you think you know someone, there is always an impossibility of truly knowing their full identity. I immediately thought of the scene in the beginning of the book where the narrator is going through his late mother’s things and realizes how skewed his knowledge of her was.
    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 odor 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. (7)
    I really liked this passage, because I think it embodies the sadness and the reality of identity, especially after death. If there is one ultimate uncontrollable aspect of identity, it is what happens to someone after they have passed away. They no longer control any aspect of their being; it is wholly in the hands of others. Proven by the passage above, identity after death will forever be only a partial identity, for even those closest to us cannot fully know us. For example, at the end of the passage, the identity of the narrator’s mother was “reduced” to artifacts, which is clearly not fully and truly her identity.

  28. Wesley says:

    “Joyce swallows her saliva and plunges her hand below the trash.
    At the other end of the cable she can feel the cold edges of a computer. The stench of sour milk grows stronger. She holds her breath and set about clearing a path through the bags. After a long while, the machine emerges from the plastic like a slippery fetus.”

    Our group discussed “garbage” as a theme/motif throughout the novel. Garbage or trash figures into all three of the protagonists’ lives. The unnamed narrator begin the book by talking about putting all his now-dead mother’s stuff into garbage bags; Noah studies the archeology of trash; Joyce dumpster-dives to get computer parts. Trash ends up having a sort of different meaning for each character: for the narrator, trash functions somewhat normally, as something you get rid of that disappears from your life when the garbage man comes; for Noah, it occupies a place of radical otherness, functioning as something to be endlessly studied; for Joyce, it is a treasure trove of discarded but not used up goodies she takes to serve her needs.

    The above passage, which I chose to focus on, is easily once of the more disquieting images in the book. In what ways is a computer like a fetus? Computers (especially ones that have been thrown away) are dead, while fetuses are pure life potential. Computers are hard metal or plastic, while fetuses are soft and vulnerable. So why does Dickner choose to use this disturbing imagery? My theory is that it epitomizes perfectly Joyce’s feelings for trash. For most people, trash is something excessive you throw into a can or a dumpster that is eliminated when the garbage truck comes to take it away. For Joyce, however, garbage contains the building blocks for her new life. Trash is something to be creative with. Thus the imagery of a birth (the canal through the garbage, the awful smell, the fact that the computer is covered in a mess of who-knows-what) is appropriate: Joyce is creating something totally new, assembling a computer out of bits and pieces that she finds, and making something new that did not exist before. Later when she finally succeeds, she even gives it a name. Joyce is thus the ultimate ecological artist, taking our excesses and creating something new out of them. As Zizek says in Examined Life, “The true ecologist loves all this [garbage].”

  29. Aaron says:

    Our group discussed “synchronicity” (two or more apparently unrelated events intersecting each other) as it related to Nikolski. Examples we discussed included the “three-headed book”, the bookstore scene where Noah inserts a map back into the “3 headed book”, the issue of luck, and the recurring theme of interest among several characters in nomadic groups of Native Americans and trash.

    I choose the example of luck, and how it seems to connect the various characters in the novel in key moments of their journeys. For example, Joyce manages to land a job at Maelo’s fish store almost immediately upon her arrival in Montreal, by seeming coincidence (she stops at the Jean-Talon market to gape at the piles of trash and is reminded of home by the smell of fish-blood, when Maelo sees her and assumes she is there about a job-opening, and offers her a job, which Joyce secures by expertly filleting a fish). Around the same time, Noah approaches Maelo to inquire about renting an room in his apartment, despite not being the textbook-example of the “political refugee” Maelo claims to want to give renting preference to. Later on, Joyce and Noah are connected by their interest in trash- Joyce scavenges trash dumps for old computer parts, while Noah studies archaeology under a college professor who investigates trash and nomadic tribes (Joyce meets the very same professor while on one of her first forays into a trash dump).

    “She pulls herself together and looks around. On the nearest storefront a huge salmon is leaping skyward, circled by the name of the business in red neon: Poissonnerie Shanahan….the door opens onto a jumble of antennae and pincers…behind the counter two men are conversing in Spanish. The taller man steps up, wiping his hands. He looks Joyce up and down. “Have you come about the job?” he asks with a Cuban accent (Pg. 71-72).

    “Noah spreads the Journal de Montreal over the road map, opens it to the “Apartments for Rent” section and peruses the columns of cryptic abbreviations and unknown neighborhoods…he finally gives up and, with his eyes shut, points arbitrarily. When he opens his eyes his finger has landed in the middle of an intriguing ad: To Share 4 ½ Petite Italie Non Smoker No Pets Free Immediately Political Refugees get Priority Call Poissonnerie Shanahan Ask for Maelo” (Pg. 78).

  30. Emily says:

    “Joyce loved everthing about her grandfather…it was in this kitchen that Lyzandre Doucet revealed to his granddaughter the family’s great secret…she suffocated in tight spaces-the kitchen, the school, the village, her father’s family-and nothing brought her more relief than to lose herself in her Grandfather Lyzandre’s pirate stories…little by little, the ambition of carrying on the family tradition seeped into her mind…she was destined for a pirate’s life, shiver me timbers!”( 48-53).

    As far as family relationships are concerned in Nikolski, it could be said that the unconscious connections between the characters matter more than the ones Noah, Joyce, and the narrator know about. We see the motives behind their decisions more clearly in many cases then they do, with the exception of Joyce’s career choice.

    Joyce feels stifled and unhappy with her father, confused about her mother’s death/disappearance, and fed up with the norm. Her motives are clear when she runs away from her aunt and uncle to take up a life of 20th century piracy in Montreal. She is not running away from her family, but trying to reconnect the missing lineage which she wants to believe in so strongly. Joyce takes to her grandfather’s stories because they are the only promising, exciting things she hears about. Had Lyzandre told her her ancestors decended from a long line of famous monarchs, she probably would have set out to conquer a continent.

    This need to carry on the family tradition becomes amplified by the newspaper article about the arrest of Leslie Lynn Doucette, leader of the largest pirate ring in the US. Joyce immediately believes that this is her lost mother, and in the years that follow Joyce picks up where he mother was stopped. By dumpster diving, especially in the financial district, Joyce becomes the proud owner of various expired credit cards, lost ID cards, and a number of computer parts, to name a few treasures. She sets up shop in her apartment and taps the internet and phone of her ever-absent neighbor to start her operations. By the time she is thirty, Joyce has an extensive collection of falsified cards, giving her the option to choose an identity as she wishes, but it does not seem she ever goes farther with her operations than stacking cards in drawers and reading the emails not addressed to her.

    This lets us see into Joyce’s character and the way in which she is trying to find herself. It is a curious way to try and feel connected with her family lost to time and scattered, which is probably why her piracy, though adept, never reaps her any direct benefits which we are aware of. In the end, Joyce has to flee before she is caught like her mother, off to another place, perhaps closer to whatever she is looking for.

  31. Latimer says:

    Family relationships seem to be the motivation for many of the actions of characters in this novel, and all of the main characters are unknowingly closely related. This helps to tie the story together. On the topic of family relationships, with the associated abandonment we see common to many of the characters, the discussion Joyce and our narrator have between pages 249 and 253 reveal more than anywhere else about our narrator. First, on page 249, we learn that the narrator’s father went to Nikolski, an island in an archipelago that looks like a spinal column, where he died of a broken neck. On page 252, we learn that he had many letters from many different addresses, and we can assume that some of these letters are from Sarah, Noah’s mother. These pages are where we learn that the narrator’s father is definitely dead. We know from the very first pages that his mother is dead. The narrator is the only main character who has informed closure concerning the fates of both his parents. Joyce does not know where her mother is, and Noah does not know what happened to his father.

    Also here, we learn more about all of the connections between all of the characters. Joyce and the narrator are cousins, though they do not seem to know it. Noah is one of the brothers that the narrator suspects he has (p. 252). Joyce says on page 253, “Well, then let’s drink to the memory of your father, your mother, your scattered family, and your old five-dollar compass, which valiantly kept pointing north until the very end.” The compass actually pointed to the island that connected Noah, Joyce, and the narrator. Jonas was the biggest “abandoner” of the story. He left both of the sons about whom we read, and he was the first of Lyzandre Doucet’s sons to leave Tête-à-la-Baleine, starting the extinction of the Doucet family in that village.

    If these pages do nothing else, they clarify the lines of family relationships existing in the stories, but probably the fact that the narrator brings the first customer ever, Joyce, his unknowing cousin, back to his apartment and actually bonds with her, is important. This is when he loses his compass and only after this does the narrator decide to branch out and explore, which is the biggest change in his life, and in the life of any of the characters of the novel (p. 282).

  32. Juliana Katinas says:

    Our group discussed garbage and how it is a fundamental theme in Nikolski. It was surprising to see how often garbage came up in the novel. From the opening scene where the narrator goes through his deceased mother’s things, to Joyce’s dumpster diving, there was really a lot to work with. Garbage also related to other large themes in the novel. For example, we thought that Noah’s returned postcards (trash in a way) were evidence of failed communication and family relationships. The used bookstore sells people’s books that they want to get rid of, and the Three- Headed Book is made up of scraps of three different books. Even the Nikolski compass, which is very valuable to the narrator, is essentially trash, as it is a useless five dollar compass that sat in an attic for many years. Trash comes up in many ways; primarily, seeing the way that characters who are searching for their own identities reuse trash and learn from the trash of others. One instance that I thought was really interesting was the chapter starting on page 159 in which Noah is doing a dig on Stevenson Island. The site is described as a “prehistoric campground” where “the challenge is to reconstruct the campers’ identities and their way of living on the basis of small scraps of refuse strewn over the landscape.” (160) It is interesting that Noah immerses himself in archaeology. Noah’s background is entirely the opposite of this study; he grew up on the move, leaving no traces behind him. His lifestyle was the opposite of permanence, and now he is studying permanent cultures and what they left behind. This says something about the developing identity of Noah. As a young person, virtually without a family, living in a large city, it is no surprise that he seeks out things that are permanent and complete. These are things that tell stories and can guide his sometimes uncertain life.

  33. Megan D. says:

    Our group discussed the significance of family relationships in the novel. Each of the characters is longing for the family members who abandoned them. The narrator keeps the Nikolski compass out of all his mother’s possessions in order to stay in touch with his father since he is the parent the narrator knew the least. Joyce goes to the cemetery and cannot find her mother’s grave. She learns from her grandfather that her mother has abandoned her. When she finds an article about a Leslie Doucette, she believes it is her mother and sets off to find her. Noah when he is dropped off in Montreal continues writing to his mother to keep contact with her, but always fails. All of his letters are returned, yet he never gives up, he continues his search for her and makes sure that he has a permanent address so that if she ever decides to find him, she can. Each of these characters is seeking family relationships they don’t have and end up in Montreal to find what they are looking for. All of these characters are interconnected through familial ties without even realizing it. The narrator and Noah are both fathered by Jonas, who is the uncle of Joyce. I was hoping that by the end of the novel they would somehow find this out and find familial relationships with each other, but it never happened.
    The passage that I focused on within our group was on page 191 when Noah finds out that Arizna has a child that three months old, which means that there is a possibility that Simon is his child. “Fourth electric shock of the day: he sees those eyes every morning in the mirror! They are Chipewyan eyes, the soft, skeptical eyes that he inherited from Sarah, who could confirm this on the spot if she were not three thousand kilometers away, somewhere near Calgary” (191). Although Arizna does not confirm or deny Noah is the biological father, Noah still packs up and goes to Venezuela to act as a father to the child. Arizna never tells Noah if he is or is not the father, but when Noah considers himself Simon’s father. On page 271, he admits to Joyce that he is the boy’s father. He has found family in being a father figure to Simon at the end of the novel. He is able to find the kind of family he wanted from the beginning. He has a steady home that he always knows where to find his family.

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