A retired New York professor’s life is thrown into chaos when he takes a young great-nephew to the French Riviera, in hopes of uncovering his own mother’s wartime secrets in the next masterpiece from New York Times bestselling author Emma Donoghue.
Noah Selvaggio is a retired chemistry professor and widower living on the Upper West Side, but born in the South of France. He is days away from his first visit back to Nice since he was a child, bringing with him a handful of puzzling photos he’s discovered from his mother’s wartime years. But he receives a call from social services: Noah is the closest available relative of an eleven-year-old great-nephew he’s never met, who urgently needs someone to look after him. Out of a feeling of obligation, Noah agrees to take Michael along on his trip.
Much has changed in this famously charming seaside mecca, still haunted by memories of the Nazi occupation. The unlikely duo, suffering from jet lag and culture shock, bicker about everything from steak frites to screen time. But Noah gradually comes to appreciate the boy’s truculent wit, and Michael’s ease with tech and sharp eye help Noah unearth troubling details about their family’s past. Both come to grasp the risks people in all eras have run for their loved ones, and find they are more akin than they knew.
Written with all the tenderness and psychological intensity that made Room an international bestseller, Akin is a funny, heart-wrenching tale of an old man and a boy, born two generations apart, who unpick their painful story and start to write a new one together.
Akin completely surprised me – I was expecting something different – perhaps because her other books read quite differently. However, I’ve come to realise that one of the beauties of Emma Donoghue’s books is the fact that they are different, in style and of course plot and setting.
This story takes place (at first) in New York, when 79 years-young Noah gets an unexpected call – his great nephew Michael has no one to take care of him, and as he’s only 11 years old Noah feels strong-armed into looking after him – and taking him on his trip of a lifetime to Nice, to track down what happened to his mother during the war and to celebrate his 80th birthday. What ensues is comical, poignant and at times quite sad. The two very different characters struggle to reconcile their differences whilst Noah learns about life as an 11 year old from a very different background to himself. There are plenty of sweet moment, and humorous situations to entertain – some parts really made me smile!
There’s also some historical context to the novel as the book – in having Nice as it’s backdrop for a large portion – offers up some interesting information about a different area of the world and a different timeframe due to Noah and Michael’s investigations! Akin is not a fast-paced, action-packed read but it moves along at just the right pace to combine character development with entertainment. It’s such an enjoyable read and it manages to be really sweet without being cloying or over the top, so I’d absolutely 100% recommend this novel.
Many thanks to Pan Macmillan for providing a copy of this novel, on which I chose to write an honest and unbiased review.