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Book review: Akin by Emma Donoghue

Akin is a heart warming meditation about family, age and history. The story centres on a retired professor who is suddenly thrust into the position of guardian of a young boy whose mother is in jail.

The boy, Michael, is the child of Noah’s nephew, who had died after living a troubled life of drugs and petty crime. Michael is cynical and guarded, and Noah has trouble competing with the phone for his attention.

Originally, there is a tone of bemusement in the narration, as if this is just a temporary situation for Noah and it will not be long before normality resumes.

The two embark on a trip to France that Noah has planned to explore his mother’s past.

Gradually, Noah comes to appreciate Michael’s quick wit and humour, and for me, that was also the best thing about the book.

Emma Donoghue captures the of the perfect disinterest of a nine-year-old in the face of technology, but also the cut-through rationality of a child. Often, Noah finds himself unable to respond or argue his case in the face of what he considers to be bad behaviour.

With my own nine-year-old at home, I was sometimes surprised by Michael’s worldliness, but I had to keep reminding myself that this was a boy whose father was dead and whose mother was in jail on a drugs charge that likely involved his father. I felt like Noah, who often had to tell himself the same thing.

Weaved through the novel was a history of Noah’s mother, who remained in France during the war, while her son was sent to the US. Her mysterious story emerges in Nice, with the help of Michael’s grasp of modern technology.

The ending of this book was satisfying and I felt hopeful for Michael and Noah, one of literature’s odd pairs.

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