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Akin by Emma Donoghue - Review

Wednesday, September 11, 2019

Thank you so much to Pan Macmillan for granting me access to read this book. I wasn't aware that Emma had a new book out, but when I noticed it on Netgalley I knew I wanted to read it! I loved Room, which I read years ago, and last year I read The Wonder by her. This book is a contemporary novel which she's apparently gone back to after a few historical novels, and I was intrigued by the premise.

Noah is an old man living in New York. He is about to turn eighty, and for his birthday he's using some money left by his younger sister to visit the place he was born - Nice, in France. His wife Joan is dead, his sister Fernande is dead, and even her husband and son have now gone too. Noah is pretty much alone in the world.

His nephew, Victor, left behind a son, Michael. Noah gets a phone call two days before he is due to travel to France to say that Michael's maternal grandmother has died and Michael has no one else to care for him. Noah is the closest suitable relative. Noah has never met Michael thanks to family estrangement, but soon the two are off together to the south of France.

Noah was born in Nice just before the outbreak of World War Two. His grandfather, Pere Sonne, was a famous photographer, and his mother, Margot, stayed behind in France to work with him. She sent Noah off to New York to join his father Marc, and stayed in France until her father died. Fernande was born there some time after.

In clearing out Fernande's possessions, Noah finds an envelope of photographs, and, with Michael's help, begins to track down what Margot did during the war.

Meanwhile Michael is a typical eleven year old. He is obsessed with his phone and his Air Jordan trainers, and he is clearly grieving for his grandmother and disquieted by the disruption in his life. He is surly and rude towards Noah, and completely unimpressed by any part of Nice.

The book touches on a lot of themes around family, around grief, around kind of blooming where you're planted. I loved Noah's look into his mother's background, I thought he was a great character and I wanted to know more about Margot's war, too. I would love to read more books about occupied France (one of my favourite books of all time, Five Quarters of the Orange, is set in the Loire in WWII) and I'd love to read more, so please recommend them if you have any!

I liked Michael, he was for me a very realistic eleven year old and I liked how he forced Noah to examine his privilege (mostly in regards to money) simply by living in a poorer part of New York.

I did find something a bit odd - Noah's nephew, Victor, is supposed to have been only around twenty six when he died, but Noah's younger sister - Victor's mother - is supposed to have died quite recently, aged around seventy. Which would make her over forty-five when she had her first and only child? I found that baffling and it really bugged me! I did also find that I kept confusing the names Noah and Michael, for some reason they scanned as really similar to me and it was frustrating at times.

I loved the setting - I love France and I could imagine myself in Nice on the Promenade des Anglais alongside Noah and Michael.

Akin will be published on 3rd October. I was provided with a free e-copy of this book for review purposes, but was not otherwise compensated. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

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