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Fiction Literary

Apocalypse for Beginners

by (author) Nicolas Dickner

translated by Lazer Lederhendler

Knopf Canada
Initial publish date
Dec 2010
Literary, Humorous, Coming of Age
  • Paperback / softback

    Publish Date
    Dec 2010
    List Price
  • CD-Audio

    Publish Date
    Jul 2016
    List Price

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From the author of Canada Reads winner Nikolski comes a sweet, smart and occasionally surreal romantic comedy, featuring two young friends who could become lovers—if only one of them hadn't convinced herself that the end of the world is nigh.

The Randall family was always a little strange. For generations, each member receives a prophetic vision of the apocalypse—but always on a different date. When the End of Days fails to materialize, yet another Randall goes mad.

In the summer of 1989, Hope Randall's mother, in an attempt to forestall the latest imminent apocalypse, loads up the Lada and heads west from Yarmouth. After their car dies in Rivière-du-Loup, the mother and daughter put down roots, as yet another day of reckoning comes and goes.

Mickey Bauermann has never seen the likes of the red-headed wonder that is Hope, whose idea of a good time is spending Friday nights watching David Suzuki reveal the mysteries of science on TV. The Bauermann family has been in the concrete business for generations, but Mickey has other ideas of what he wants to do with his life. For now, he spends every available second with Hope, whose mother has become increasingly unhinged. The teens take refuge in Mickey's bungalow basement, aka The Bunker, where they watch the twentieth century crumble and transform on the small screen.

But when Hope's destiny as a Randall is revealed by chance—and by a bomb shelter's worth of ramen noodles—the time for hiding out is past. For Hope, the only way to deal with the end of the world is to confront it head on. The journey begins...

About the authors

Nicolas Dickner is a Canadian novelist and short story writer. He is best known for his 2005 novel Nikolski, which has won numerous literary awards in Canada both in its original French and translated English editions.

Nicolas Dickner's profile page

Lazer Lederhendler is a full-time freelance translator specializing in contemporary Québécois fiction and nonfiction. His work has earned him many distinctions in Canada and abroad, including multiple nominations for the Governor General’s Literary Award, which he won in 2008 for the translation of Nikolski by Nicolas Dickner. He is also the translator of Gaétan Soucy’s novel, The Immaculate Conception, which was a finalist for the Scotiabank Giller Prize and the Governor General’s Literary Award for French to English translation, and the winner of the Cole Foundation Prize for Translation awarded by the Quebec Writers’ Federation. Lazer Lederhendler lives in Montreal. 

Lazer Lederhendler's profile page


  • Short-listed, Governor General's Literary Award - Translation

Excerpt: Apocalypse for Beginners (by (author) Nicolas Dickner; translated by Lazer Lederhendler)


August 1989. Ronald Reagan had vacated the White House, the Cold War was winding down and the outdoor municipal swimming pool was, once again, closed for maintenance.

Rivière-du-Loup was immersed in a chicken broth of pollen-saturated, yellowish air, and I wandered glumly around the neighbourhood, my towel around my neck. Just three days remained before the start of the new school year, and nothing but a few good laps through chlorinated water could have boosted my morale.

I ended up at the municipal stadium. Not a soul in sight. The lines on the baseball field were freshly drawn and the scent of chalk still wafted around. I’d never cared about baseball but, for no particular reason, I loved stadiums. I walked past the dugout. On an old sun-bleached newspaper a column of tanks at Tiananmen Square could just barely be made out.

That was when I noticed the girl sitting up in the very last row. Her nose was buried in a book, as though she was killing time waiting for the next game to begin.

Without giving it too much thought, I climbed up the bleachers in her direction.

I’d never seen her in the neighbourhood. She was thin, with bony hands and a face studded with freckles. The visor of her Mets cap was pulled down low over her eyes and the left knee of her jeans was ripped. The jeans were not of the trendy acid-washed variety, but rough-cut work pants, an ancient pair of Levi’s salvaged from some coal mine in the New Mexico desert.

Her back pressed against the guardrail, she was reading a language-learning manual: Teach Yourself Russian at Home, Volume 13.

I sat down without speaking. She made no sign of noticing me.

The wooden benches scorched our behinds. The sun poured down so mercilessly I was tempted to turn my towel into a turban, but I was afraid of appearing ridiculous. High overhead I could see a 747 tracing long parallel lines of cirrus clouds in the sky. Dry weather ahead.

I was on the verge of spouting some meteorological small talk when the girl tilted up the visor of her cap.

“Last night I dreamt about the bomb at Hiroshima.”

A few seconds went by while I pondered this unconventional preamble.

“Why specifically the Hiroshima bomb?”

She folded her arms.

“The destructive power of modern bombs is unimaginable. Take, for example, an ordinary ballistic missile, about five hundred kilotons. The explosion is enough to send a chunk of tectonic plate into orbit. It’s beyond what the human brain can grasp.”

Where was this girl from? I couldn’t pin down her accent. English? Acadian? My guess was Brayon—from Edmundston, New Brunswick, to be exact. She yanked an empty Cracker Jack box out from between two planks and proceeded to turn it into confetti.

“Little Boy had a yield of approximately fifteen kilotons. Not exactly a firecracker, but easier to measure all the same. If it exploded over our heads, at six hundred metres—the same altitude as the Hiroshima explosion—the shock wave would flatten the city over a radius of 1.5 kilometres. That amounts to an area of seven square kilometres. Which represents . . .”

She squinted, concentrating on the massive mental calculation.

“Two thousand five hundred baseball fields.”

She stopped shredding the Cracker Jack box long enough for her arms to sweep instructively over the landscape.

“The shopping mall would be pulverized, bungalows would be blown to pieces, cars would be sent flying like cardboard boxes, the lampposts would flop down on the ground. And that’s just the shock wave. Then there would be the thermal radiation. Everything would be reduced to ash over dozens of square kilometres—way, way more baseball fields! Near the bomb, the heat would be greater than the temperature at the surface of the sun. Metal would liquefy. Sand would turn into little glass beads.”

Having finished the shredding job, she weighed the pile of confetti in the palm of her hand.

“And do you know what would happen to us, two tiny, little primates made up of 60 per cent water?”

She gently turned her hand upside down and let the breeze carry the confetti off toward left field.

“We would be vaporized in three thousandths of a second.”

She finally turned my way and took a good look at me, probably to gauge how well I’d held up to her lesson. Pretty well, by and large. Her gaze told me I had passed the test.

Her face softened, and I detected the hint of a friendly smile. Then, without saying another word, she plunged back into her Russian handbook.

The shock wave having left me slightly worse for wear, I dropped back against the guardrail. I observed the girl sideways as I wiped my forehead with a corner of the towel. I could have sworn she generated a magnetic field—the radiation of her 195 IQ.

Not only had I never seen this girl before, but I had never seen any girl like her. And just as I was thinking this, it dawned on me that if I ever had to be vaporized in the company of someone else, I would definitely want it to be her.

Editorial Reviews

"Ramen noodles, the Berlin wall, David Suzuki, pretzels, white cowboy boots, Hiroshima, Kuwait, Nana Mouskouri, sparkly blue nailpolish, zombies, young love… Apocalypse for Beginners is fresh and quirky and darkly fun. Fans of Nikolski will not be disappointed."
—Annabel Lyon, author of The Golden Mean
“An enjoyably eccentric novel. . . . A bizarre and darkly funny journey. Part romance, part mystery, part absurdist comedy, it is a worthy follow-up to Dickner’s acclaimed debut.”
—Winnipeg Free Press

“The surface sparkles with historical and pop-cultural references, a sweet and subtle love story and marvellous, quirky fixations (including David Suzuki, baseball stadiums and the number of lemons required to power an atomic bomb).”
Quill & Quire

“Charming. . . . The novel twinkles with the same idiosyncratic rhythm that made Nikolski such a delight. . . . By turns sharp, thoughtful and sweet. . . . With a writer as nimble as Dickner in our midst, here’s hoping that [the world does not end] . . . any time soon.”
—Emily Landau, The Globe and Mail

“We’re reminded that part of what made Nikolski so deservedly popular was Dickner’s deft hand with tone and mood. . . . Those strengths are on even greater display in the new novel.”
—The Gazette

“This slickly composed novel glides between Quebec, Seattle and Tokyo and gleams with on-trend observation and doomsday cynicism.”
—The Independent

“An eccentric, ebullient romantic comedy about deep friendship and eternal love.”
—Kate Saunders, The Times

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