Noah Selvaggio is approaching the milestone of his 80th birthday. A retired chemistry professor living in New York City’s Upper West Side, he’s been a widower for several years. He and his wife were childless. His younger sister and her husband are both dead; their son, his nephew, the one Noah can’t think of without adding the adjective ‘beautiful,” is also dead of an apparent drug overdose in a seedy motel room.
To mark his 80th, Noah is going to his birthplace of Nice. His story is a World War II story. His father had left Nice for America; his mother, pregnant at the time, made a conscious decision to remain in Nice to care for her father, a famous photographer in declining health. When he was old enough, his mother was able to book passage for him on a ship with hundreds of other children, bound for America. She remained until her father died in 1944, and then she, too, had left for America to join her family.
Noah’s sister has left him with a box of family photographs, including some that must have been taken by his mother when she was in Nice. The photographs hint at something disturbing. His mother might have been a Nazi collaborator.
A few days before he is to leave, Noah receives a call from Children’s Services, asking him to take charge of his 11-year-old great-nephew Michael, whom Noah has never met. The boy’s mother is serving a prison sentence, somehow connected to the death of Noah’s nephew. Her mother can no longer care for the boy. It’s either Noah or foster care.
Not only does Noah finally agree to take the boy, who is both streetwise and foul-mouthed, he decides he will take him to Nice. Through a flurry of last-minute red tape and paperwork, the boy gets a passport. And Noah and Michael embark upon a journey that will forever change both of their lives. Street smarts and tech smarts meet aged wisdom, begging the question of whether a family can mend and survive,
Akin by Emma Donoghue is the story of Noah and Michael. It’s told with poignancy and deep emotion. Running through it are two mysteries that may or may not be solved: was Noah’s mother a collaborator, and did Michael’s father actually die of a drug overdose? The answers will help determine family understanding and identity.
Donoghue, a native of Ireland, received a Ph.D. degree in 18th century literature from Cambridge University. She has published fiction, literary history, biography, stage and radio plays, fairy tales, and short stories. Her 2010 novel Roomwas a New York Times and international bestseller and a finalist for several prizes, including the Man Booker. She lives with her family in London, Ontario.
Akin is a wonderful story, asking and answering the questions of can a family connect generations, and how. It describes how the past can exert a strong hold on the present. And it looks at the courage it takes to face and accept what may be terrible and awful in one’s parents and grandparents.