The premise of this book is sweet: A 79-year-old childless widower, Noah, is suddenly told that he has an 11-year-old grand-nephew who has no other family and is headed for foster care if he doesn’t agree to take the boy in. Noah is about to fly to France, specifically to Nice, where he was born, to celebrate his 80th birthday. He has no choice but to take the boy along.
Akin by Emma Donoghue (author of Room) opens by defining the word ‘akin’ as applying either to those related by blood or to things that are similar. Both definitions apply to Noah and Michael, though understanding of the latter comes only gradually. When the two first fly out of New York, they seem hopelessly mismatched – a gentle senior who is a chemist by trade and an angry, disrespectful, foul-mouthed techie of a pre-teen.
From the start, there are moments of poignancy and angst between them. Noah is amazingly patient with the boy, more so than I would have been. But then, he also has the voice of his late wife in his ear, advising him this way and that.
Noah sees this trip as a way to solve one of the great mysteries of his background. He does that and more with Michael.
Akin is a quiet book. Some will say it’s slow, even too much like a travelogue when discussing the landscape of Nice, historical and otherwise. But the author avoids clichéd responses between Noah and Michael, and laces humor through the emotion.
Moreover, the story comes together around themes of grief, fear of abandonment, and personal discovery in a way that I found to be eminently uplifting.