It sounded interesting–an old man and his young relative. I did fear it would go all Oprah on me, or that it would be another Grumpy Old Guy book full of stereotypes. It was neither. It was wonderful.
Noah is a widower, a retired chemist, lonely and about to turn 80 in his fine New York apartment. A packet of odd World War II-era photos, taken by his mother, makes him finally decide to return to Nice–the city of his birth. Meanwhile, in a much more run-down neighborhood, his great-nephew Michael is now without a guardian while his Mom is in prison for a crime she likely didn’t commit. A social worker identifies Noah as the only possible relative to assume kinship care of Michael following his grandmother’s death. Noah does his best to avoid the responsibility, but ultimately he ends up assuming temporary guardianship of the boy. After the social worker rams paperwork under the appropriate pens, a passport and travel documents are secured and Noah takes Michael along on his trip back to Nice.
Aside from the obvious fun of a streetwise kid from “that sort of neighborhood” going along with a very cultured, well-educated elderly man to France there ends up being a lot more to the story–none of it the sort Oprah likes.
While I found it unbelievable that a New York City social worker only had 20-some cases, the rest of the story was very believable. I loved the way Noah would conjure his late wife, Joan, telling him to do things. Not a ghost-story thing, just a normal happily man “hearing” what his wife would tell him. I loved that. I also loved Michael–his complete vulnerability was touching. The way the two educate each other throughout their week in Nice is heart-warming, but never precious. This is a believable book.
Akin: A Novel by Emma Donoghue