AKIN by Emma Donoghue


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Revisiting his birthplace in France, a retired university professor reckons with his past—and, unexpectedly, the future in the form of a great-nephew.

Noah hasn’t seen Nice since his mother sent him to join his father in the U.S. when he was 4, during World War II. He plans to celebrate his 80th birthday there, and he certainly wasn’t planning to take along 11-year-old Michael, illegitimate son of Noah’s ne’er-do-well nephew, Victor. But Michael's mother is in jail on drug charges—probably taking the rap for Victor, who subsequently OD’d—and the grandmother who was taking care of the boy just died; there is literally no one else, says the desperate social worker who phones Noah as a last resort. With her characteristic storytelling brio, Donoghue (The Lotterys Plus One, 2017, etc.) sets up a fraught situation with multiple unresolved issues. Instead of a leisurely visit to Nice, possibly tracking down the locations of some enigmatic photographs his mother took during the war, Noah is stuck with a foulmouthed, sullen tween who rarely lifts his eyes from his battered phone. Granted, it’s predictable that this mismatched pair will ultimately come to grudging mutual respect and even affection, but Donoghue keeps sentimentality to a minimum and deftly maintains a suspenseful plot. Michael’s digital skills come in handy as Noah investigates the unpleasant possibility that his mother was a Nazi collaborator, and his (minimal) confidences reveal a history of poverty and loss that makes the boy’s thorny character understandable. Noah, still holding internal conversations with his beloved wife, Joan, nine years after her death, knows something about loss, and he struggles to be patient. Donoghue’s realistic portrait of Michael includes enough rudeness and defiance to make the pair’s progress toward détente bumpy and believable. The story of Noah’s mother turns out to be more complicated and even sadder than he had feared, leading to a beautiful meditation on how we preserve the past as we prepare for the future. Noah and Michael, humanly flawed and all the more likable for that, deserve their happy ending.

Not as ambitious or challenging as Donoghue in absolute top form (say, Room), but readable, well crafted, and absorbing.

Pub Date: Sept. 10th, 2019
ISBN: 978-0-316-49199-0
Page count: 352pp
Publisher: Little, Brown
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2019

Kirkus Interview
Emma Donoghue
April 3, 2017

In Emma Donoghue’s new middle-grade novel, The Lotterys Plus One, Sumac Lottery is nine years old and the self-proclaimed "good girl" of her (VERY) large, (EXTREMELY) unruly family. And what a family the Lotterys are: four parents, children both adopted and biological, and a menagerie of pets, all living and learning together in a sprawling house called Camelottery. Then one day, the news breaks that one of their grandfathers is suffering from dementia and will be coming to live with them. And not just any grandfather; the long dormant "Grumps," who fell out with his son so long ago that he hasn't been part of any of their lives. Suddenly, everything changes. Sumac has to give up her room to make the newcomer feel at home. She tries to be nice, but prickly Grumps's clearly disapproves of how the Lotterys live: whole grains, strange vegetables, rescue pets, a multicultural household....He's worse than just tough to get along with—Grumps has got to go! But can Sumac help him find a home where he belongs? “Full of clever names and wordplay, this engaging tale is moving without veering into sentimentality,” our critic writes in a starred review. “For all the Lotterys’ apparent eccentricity, the novel delves into universal themes of family relationships that will resonate with readers from all backgrounds.” View video >


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