The 2010 winner of Canada Reads, the annual CBC competition to name one Canadian book that they figure every Canadian should read, was Nikolski, by Nicolas Dickner (Vintage). It is an engaging, complex story of three young Canadians: a mysteriously nameless used-book salesman; Noah, a nomadic archaeology student who grew up moving towns every two weeks; and Joyce, a restless descendant of seafaring pirates.
Their paths keep almost but not quite intersecting as they go about their daily adventuring in Montreal. But everything is connected: more fish references than you can imagine, from the fish-patterned tablecloth to insects flying around a light at night described as “a cloud of phosphorescent plankton.” Even the Nikolski compass is a marine instrument, so named because it faithfully points not-quite-north to the town of Nikolski, Alaska, “home to 36 people, 5,000 sheep and an indeterminate number of dogs.”
The book includes a fair amount of made-in-Canada name-dropping. After reading about the CBC news (twice), the RCMP entering a fish store and the names and postal codes of ten gazillion small Canadian towns, I started checking the Canadian-ness of everything I came across. The smell coming from the janitor’s apartment in Joyce’s building, for instance, was of Kraft Dinner, so I did some googling. It turns out that although Kraft is an American company, the founder, James Kraft, was born near Stevenson, Ontario, and lived there until he was twenty-nine. Three other facts about Kraft Dinner: a) we’ve kept the original name (the Americans call it “Kraft Macaroni and Cheese,” the English “Cheesey Pasta”); b) Canada has the highest per-capita consumption of it; and c) we’re the only ones who call it “KD.”
In a novel that has been translated into five languages and published in seven countries, we can only love Dickner’s little shout-out to us loyal followers of the noodles in the blue box.