Noah instantly fell in love with Cesar Sanchez’s old bike.
Standing on the pedals, with a firm grip on the rim of the basket, head down, he feels as though he’s sailing over the neighborhood. The hazards of the road disappear. No more traffic, no more one-way streets, no more driving regulations. All that remain are the landmarks stretched by speed: the Jean-Talon market, the St-Zotique church, an elderly man sitting on his bench, the statue of Dante Alighieri, the alternating butcher shops and shoe-repair shops, a tree-lined sidewalk.
The deliveryman’s job, which he initially viewed as dreary, suddenly seems to him like an ideal way to map out the neighborhood. Riding his bike, he constructs an aerial view of the territory—squares, alleyways, walls, graffiti, schoolyards, stairways, variety stores, and snack bars—and when he talks with the customers, he gathers intelligence on accents, clothing, physical traits, kitchen smells, and bits of music. Added together, the two catalogues make up a complex map of the area, at once physical and cultural.
He tries to transpose his observations onto a map of Montreal, but two dimensions are not enough to contain the wealth of information. Instead he would need a mobile, a game of Mikado, a matryoshka, or even a series of nested scale models: a Little Italy containing a Little Latin America, which contains a Little Asia, which in turn contains a Little Haiti, without forgetting of course a little San Pedro de Macorís.
For the first time in his life, Noah is starting to feel at home.
Excerpted from Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner. . Excerpted by permission of Trumpeter, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.