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Akin by Emma Donoghue


Akin (New York: Little Brown; Toronto: HarperCollins Canada; London: Picador, 2019). 

A tale of love, loss and family, in which a retired New York professor’s life is thrown into chaos when he takes his great-nephew to the French Riviera, in hopes of uncovering his own mother's wartime secrets. Noah is only days away from his first trip back to Nice since he was a child when a social worker calls looking for a temporary home for Michael, his eleven-year-old great-nephew. Though he has never met the boy, he gets talked into taking him along to France. This odd couple, suffering from jet lag and culture shock, argue about everything from steak haché to screen time, and the trip is looking like a disaster. But as Michael's ease with tech and sharp eye help Noah unearth troubling details about their family’s past, both of them come to grasp the risks that people in all eras have run for their loved ones, and find they are more akin than they knew.

Donoghue’s twelfth novel (and sixteenth book of fiction) is her first contemporary one for adults since Room. It was a bestseller in Canada as soon as it was published.

A personal note: Akin is my only book to grow out of a particular place: it’s inspired by the two years (2011-12 and 2015-16) I spent with my French partner and our children in Nice. Despite having a degree in French and English, over the decades I’ve consistently failed to become fluent in French, so this novel is a sort of apologetic love-letter to the country that intrigues me so deeply, where I will always be a stranger. I chose New York as the place where Noah’s family would end up not only because it was an obvious choice for people involved in the art world, but because my father the literary critic Denis Donoghue taught at NYU from the late seventies to the early 2010s, and the one year I spent in that city at the age of nine was eyeopening in every way.

The story of Noah’s mother was prompted by the wartime experiences of Marguerite Matisse Duthuit, daughter to the painter who lived in Nice for so long, which I learned about in Hilary Spurling’s extraordinary biography Matisse: The Life. But I decided to make Noah’s grandfather a photographer instead, because that could be called the key twentieth-century art form, and because photographs (pre-digital) have such uncanny power as evidence. My image-maker friend Margaret Lonergan created some of Margot’s photos for me to include in the book, as well as designing the cover from a 1930s shot of the Promenade des Anglais by Swiss photographer Martin Hürlimann.

To buy Akin:

In the US 

In Canada 

In the UK 

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Akin is forthcoming in Polish, Hungarian and Swedish.



'Soul-stirring' - O Magazine

'Donoghue nails not only the class differences but the generational impasse: the adult who cannot grasp the extent to which society has broken; the child who has never known it to be otherwise. ... What begins as a larky story of unlikely male bonding turns into an off-center but far richer novel about the unheralded, imperfect heroism of two women — Michael’s incarcerated mother and Noah’s long deceased one — and the way we preserve the past and prepare for the future.' New York Times

'If “Room” was a horror novel laced with sweetness, “Akin” is a sweet novel laced with horror. ... continuously charming. ... Donoghue, a mother herself, has a perfect ear for the exasperated sighs of preteens. Noah can’t understand why Michael would rather stare at his phone than enjoy one of the world’s most beautiful cities. All his attempts at conversation are hilariously awkward, an excruciating transcript of impatience, misunderstandings, missed intentions ... But Donoghue doesn’t just play it for laughs — or sentimentality. ... “Akin” is true to the quiet investment of time needed to win a child’s trust. The movement here is the slow accrual of affection. ...For us, the reward stems from Donoghue’s ability to wring moments of tenderness and comedy from this mismatched pair of relatives.' - Washington Post

'A touching, keenly observed novel ... for all the brilliance in Donoghue’s mismatched pair (every time we might be tempted to find Michael slightly annoying, she’s a master at showing us, and reminding us, that he’s just a child raised with virtually no stability due to forces far beyond his control), the novel is at its strongest when it highlights the resemblances that unite Michael and Noah. ... Donoghue delivers a profound reflection on family secrets and the way they shape our current identities. Her profoundly human portrayal of Michael elicits a crucial form of empathy for the lives disrupted by the opioid crisis and raises questions on its impact on generations to come. All this makes Akin an important, touching novel that stays with you long after you’re done reading it.' - The Independent

'Donoghue has an uncanny way of writing about children ... such a fluid, lovely writer.' - Seattle Times

'Her spirited, highly accomplished new book ... As well as this fascinating slice of European history, ‘Akin' offers a subtle, entertaining portrait of the relationship—and friction—between age and youth.’ - The Economist

‘Highly emotional but never sentimental.’ - Vogue

'A wise, warm tale. ... Emma Donoghue has written the perfect novel to ease the transition from beach reads to the traditionally more serious issue-driven books of fall. ... in France, the novel soars.' - Minneapolis Star Tribune

'Donoghue lets off the gas just enough for the characters to connect in a way that doesn’t feel sappy. ... Through Donoghue’s well-crafted writing, we see the points where, though the two flawed protagonists are generations apart, their stories overlap and converge; she lightly touches on a more universal concept of how our ancestry and history inform the people we are today.' - Salon.com

'With her characteristic storytelling brio, Donoghue sets up a fraught situation with multiple unresolved issues ... keeps sentimentality to a minimum and deftly maintains a suspenseful plot. ... 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. ... readable, well crafted, and absorbing.' - Kirkus

‘Donoghue nestles a quiet mystery in the growing relationship between two different family members… Readers interested in World War II or family drama will find this a fascinating read.’ - Library Journal

‘Another winner… psychological and intense.’ - Shereads.com

'Setting the story against the compelling backdrop of the annual Carnaval de Nice, Donoghue shines in her careful study of this slice of WWII history in France. ... engaging and pleasing ... Donoghue builds unabashedly to a heartwarming conclusion. ... Michael’s wide-eyed and guardedly cynical point-of-view will amuse and entertain YAs.' - Booklist

‘A very satisfying denouement.’ - Publishers Weekly

'Captivating' - Christian Science Monitor

'Paints a vivid picture' - Entertainment Weekly

'Donoghue's story-telling skills are in fine form in her new, quick-paced novel ... Although Donoghue’s lively tale has many attractions, its most appealing is the repartee between uncle and nephew, crisp, peevish exchanges which underscore the gulfs which exist between generations ... Donoghue’s sparkling story is both inventive and thought-provoking.' - London Free Press

'Donoghue again demonstrates her facility for tension-ridden storytelling and unusual empathy.' Now Magazine

'Donoghue’s writing is as lush as it is clear-eyed; her characters and settings emerge in richly detailed prose, but there’s never a word out of place.... In the hands of a lesser writer, their strained relationship might induce eye rolls, but Donoghue is adroit enough to avoid any common pitfalls. Noah’s and Michael’s emotional arcs never feel manipulative or contrived but always well earned. Their dialogue (mildly cringe-worthy slang aside) is consistently well crafted, smart, and funny.... Akin raises questions that are just as much in need of answers today as they were 75 years ago: as the story unfolds, Donoghue deftly explores the moral and ethical obligations of resistance, the dangers of passivity, and whether survival is ever a reason or excuse for collaboration. With some clever allusions to contemporary political issues, Noah’s family history becomes a lesson in history repeating itself. Yet somehow Akin manages never to feel preachy or allegorical; it relates past to present without making readers feel they’re being condescended to. .... The pacing is tight enough that the story never drags, but narrative tidiness never comes at the expense of vibrancy or detail. The descriptions of carnival-season Nice alone are worth the price of admission, and Noah and Michael’s intergenerational relationship has a depth and sweetness to it that feels rare in contemporary fiction. Donoghue’s ability to spin a story is masterful, and Akin is engaging and very readable.' - Quill and Quire

'Catches you from the first page and Donoghue proves she’s a master at dialogue that propels the story forward and creates characters you really care about.' - Toronto Star



A trailer for Akin from HarperCollins Canada