"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 fries 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."--provided by publisher.
Emma Donoghue takes a few familiar literary tropes (the protagonist looking for his roots, the odd couple, the fish out of water) and approaches them with an unexpected freshness. Every time I thought the novel was falling into a rut, Donoghue surprised me. Noah spends his time in Nice searching for evidence of his mother's years after she'd bundled him alone as a four-year-old to make the long transatlantic voyage to his father in New York, until she joined them after the war. And as he learned both about what happened in Nice during WWII and specifically about his mother, he begins to form a picture of what she was doing in those years. But Noah's research has holes in it, and he's making some big assumptions.
And then there's Michael, a heartbreakingly realistic boy. He's got layers of defense built up and all the habits that seem designed to annoy a cultured old man, from the refusal to eat anything but the familiar to the constant phone time. Donoghue allows Michael to be revealed through Noah's observations and it's beautifully done.
This is a quiet, reflective novel about change, whether utter, life up-ending change or as an adjustment in how a relationship is viewed long after its end. Donoghue manages to inhabit the lives of two characters at opposite ends of their life trajectories and to do so with great empathy. A solid novel that I'll be thinking about for some time to come.
The author nicely brings in the history of Nice and the resistance movement as the two unlikely explorers reconstruct what clues they have. As a reader I enjoyed learning about the Marcel Network that saved over 500 children. Though the novel is somewhat predictable, it is always pleasant. I would recommend.
Rosa Figueroa’s name would always conjure up pressure on the buttocks for Noah. That was how it was, approaching eighty: everything got close to the bone.
Was genius a weed that sprang up anywhere, or did it need a particular habitat?
But really all Noah was attempting to do was fill a gap; throw his ungainly self down so the kid could cross over this abyss. Weren’t all of us bridges for each other, one way or another?
He supposed it was always that way with the dead; they slid away before we knew enough to ask them the right questions. All we could do was remember them, as much as we could remember of them, whether it was accurate or not. Walk the same streets that they’d walked; take our turn.
Soon the two are in Nice, and off to a shaky beginning. A life of privilege meets a life that was anything but. A life of crime, drugs, and fearsome neighborhoods. On the surface this is a charming novel, amusing at times, and wondrous as an elderly man who never had children, tries to relate to a young boy who has already endured much. There are hidden depths within, with the unveiling of Noah's mother's life, and her activities during the war.
By books end both man and boy come to different realizations, and this easy flowing story holds more than one surprise. A delightful and meaningful read.
"Don't smash your foot. So many ways Noah couldn't protect this boy; it was like traveling with s bag of bananas he had little chance of delivering unbruised........."
ARC from Edelweiss.
"The future was more urgent than the past, he decided, even if the two were entangled. Like the line he read in the Resistance museum: never have, but never forget."
This book is on quite a different level than the other Emma Donoghue books that I’ve read. There’s a lot more humor in this one and I enjoyed the witty sparring between this unlikely pair. Michael is very foul-mouthed and can be quite obnoxious but knowing the life he’s led, his character is very believable. I admired the patience Noah shows Michael but then again Noah also knows about loss. He still has long talks with his deceased wife. Both of these characters are brought to life with compassion and understanding. Noah’s mother’s photos lead them on a hunt for the truth that is quite a heart wrenching one and made the book quite compelling. Could it be that Noah’s beloved mother was a Nazi collaborator?
This book was given to me by the publisher in return for an honest review.
Noah was born in Nice, France just before World War II started. He left Nice when he was 4 years old. Now at age 79 he is going to return to Nice for the first time since he left 75 years ago. Then he gets a call from a social worker that complicates his plans enormously. His great-nephew, Michael, has no other relatives in New York who can take care of him. His father (Noah's nephew) died of a drug overdose a few months ago. His mother is in jail for possession of drugs for the purpose of trafficking. His grandmother with whom Michael was staying while his mother completes her five year sentence just died. There is an uncle but he is in a wheelchair and has no fixed abode since his mother's death. So if Noah doesn't agree to take care of Michael until some relatives outside of the city can be reached the boy will go into foster care. Noah is reluctant for a number of reasons: he and his wife decided never to have children so he has no experience, his age, his upcoming trip, and the fact that he has never even met Michael. Nevertheless he is persuaded to take on temporary guardianship of Michael and take him on the trip to Nice. Things don't look propitious at first. Michael is addicted to playing games on his phone, when he does speak he uses profanity freely, he misses his mother and grandmother fiercely and now he has to hang out with an old geezer that he doesn't even know.
There is a mystery surrounding Noah's mother who stayed on in Nice even after she sent Noah to live with his father in New York City. The only clues Noah has about that time period are a few photos found in his deceased sister's effects. As he and Michael tour around Nice he tries to puzzle out what the pictures mean and what his mother was doing there during the last years of the war. Unexpectedly Michael provides some key observations that help Noah solve this mystery.
I found both characters interesting but I thought that Donoghue really nailed what an octogenarian former chemistry professor would be like. Noah is a great character and I think he might be the best part of this book.