Akin, by Emma Donoghue is an interesting story that is aptly named as it is about family, understanding and the generational differences between family members.
Akin follows the character of Noah ‘Noe’ Selvaggio, a 79 year old retired professor. Noah, having outlived his immediate family, lives a solitary and slow life – as he fails to see the point in rushing anymore- but he decides to visit Nice, France, as a return to his homeland where he spent his early and formative years. Looking forward to his trip, though doubting it will be fun, his plans are quickly disrupted when Rosa calls him and tells him that his 11 year old great nephew, Michael, needs a guardian- and Noah is the only next of kin they could find. Hesitant and unsure, Noah tries to find a way around this but due to the only alternative being the care system Noah, out of obligation to his sister, agrees to temporary guardianship, after his trip to France. Unfortunately, this does not work out and Michael ends up going on the trip with him. Once in Nice Noah tries to uncover his mother’s history with the aid of some obscure pictures he found in his sisters room, while simultaneously struggling to deal with a screen-addicted, and foul mouthed 11 year old with whom he argues over everything with. As the two struggle to get along, and unexpectedly help one and other, they realise they are more akin than they originally thought.
I love Emma Donoghue’s writing and I have done since Room– a book I absolutely adored after it had been recommended to me by a friend. So, when i saw Akin was available for me to request via Netgalley, I jumped at the chance to read it- and the writing was just as amazing as I remembered it to be.
Donoghue’s writing is so tender, emotional and well crafted that I was immediately drawn into the story. Moreover, it is so easy to read and get absorbed into that I ended up reading the majority of the book in one sitting! This as also aided by the narrative choice used, we read from Noah’s perspective so we get his thoughts and insights into each situation- with a little bit of his wife’s too, a technique I really liked and thought it added a unique and interesting dimension to the story. However, having the story told solely through Noah’s perspective was a brave choice as he is an elderly man- an age group that not many people can identify with (particularly readers like me who are in their 20’s)- who has a different view of the world because he grew up in a different generation. For example, Noah is fascinated by his family history, his heritage, and the history of France and appreciates the smaller, educational elements of the world, something Michael does not. He also has many issues relative to his age from his health to his perspective on his own fate, something that younger people are less inclined to think about as often. However, despite his age and his perspective, Donoghue still manages to get the reader to connect with the character. Many a time while reading the book I sympathised and supported Noah’s emotions and his thoughts and connected with him on a much deeper level than I thought I would.
Moreover, the lack of narrative from Michael’s perspective was clever and helped me to connect more with Noah, but also with Michael. This was partly due to not knowing what Michael’s train of thought was, so when he chooses to behave in a specific way or comes out with an enlightening comment it is surprising to the reader but also intriguing because it makes us appreciate Michael’s character is suffering, but also connects us with Noah who cannot connect with Michael or simply understand him due to the generational difference, we too are left in the dark about why Michael does what he does.
Of course, as I previously said, I also felt I could connect with Michael, he is the new generation that is surrounded by screens. But, at his core he is only a child who is scared and stressed out with his current circumstances. His frustration is natural, though his behaviour is, at times, unnecessary- he is human, he has flaws and so you can connect with him.
The dynamic between Noah and Michael is what you would expect, it is awkward. The two have never met and are thrust together by unfortunate circumstances and they are worlds apart in personality. However, the relationship is interesting to read about as it is also comical. Watching the two learn about each other and develop their relationship is sweet and funny, the combination of the two generations is an interesting concept to watch unfold. This is primarily because, as they book moves on, you begin to see the family resemblance and the connections they do have such as Michael’s obsession, but also hidden proficiency, with a camera – a familial link that is dominant throughout the story.
I also enjoyed watching the two as they try to uncover the mystery of Noah’s mother’s photos. This element of the story, though I wish there had been more of it, was definitely interesting as it created a strange dynamic and atmosphere in regards to the theme of family that has been built up. With the constant uncertainty and horror that could possibly lie behind the pictures; the flitting states of denial, disgust, fear and hope of Noah as he begins to create theories are emotional to watch as the bond of family is tested consistently during the trip. This concept is so important to the novel as family is so important to Noah, and should the bond of family be destroyed in regards to his mother then it makes you think what hope there could be for this new potential bond between Noah and Michael. Though initially it does not seem like Noah particularly cared for Michael, his family, it is made clear through smaller things as the book goes on and this only gets stronger. On the other hand, Michael also shares that trait. He is also invested in his family, particularly his mother, uncle and late grandmother, but has yet to see Noah as worthy of the title of family. But, as time goes on he begins to understand that he has more family than he realised and that Noah is the key to his family history.
The story itself is largely character driven, with little actual plot. Thus, it is the perfect read for people who love to watch characters grow and develop. However, the plot that does run through the novel is interesting with the past and present linked together and mirroring each other in a subtle way; both based on secrets with unfortunate consequences. I enjoyed the plot and the unravelling of the truth, but would have liked to see more elements confirmed, particularly for the more present day problems surrounding Michael’s father and mother. The wrap up of the past secrets concerning Noah’s mother was one I actually enjoyed. Though it is not 100% tied up and there were a few elements left for Noah to ponder on, it was an ending that made sense with the ambiguity adding to the mysterious and distressing atmosphere of the heart-breaking period of war and hatred. In fact I would likely enjoy a novel that continued the modern day ending of Akin that delved into the decisions made at the end and the secrets and mystery surrounding Michael’s immediate family.
Overall I really enjoyed this book. The characters were easy to connect with, the writing was amazing and the story was interesting. The theme of family was well crafted and the conflict and distress that threatened the familial values throughout made for an insightful read. Furthermore, the mirroring and contrast of the two families and their situations created a deeper level of connection between the two main characters.
The relationships between the characters was delightful to read about as it was the combination of different generations, socio-economic backgrounds, and different values. None of which could transcend the idea and bond of family.
*I received and eARC of Akin from #Netgalley #PanMacmillan in exchange for an honest review*