An odd couple in Nice – A book review of Akin by Emma Donoghue

Noah is about to spend his 80th birthday in Nice, France revisiting his birthplace that he hasn’t seen since he was four. His wife died almost a decade before, although she still pops in to be the sassy voice of reason in his head. He plans on investigating the mystery surrounding his mother when she stayed behind in Nice for two years after Noah and his father immigrated to the United States during WWII. Was she a Nazi collaborator, resistance fighter, or did she have an illegitimate child? With some newly discovered photos and a book by his famous photographer grandfather, he is ready to go!

Unfortunately, a few days before he leaves, he gets a phone call from a social worker needing his help regarding Michael, his great nephew. Michael has nowhere to go. His father died a few years ago, his mother is in jail, and his primary caregiver, his grandmother, has just died. Michael has no one else. Seeing no other option, Noah takes eleven year old Michael with him to Nice. And boy oh boy, do they not get along.

Noah takes eleven year old Michael with him to Nice. And boy oh boy, do they not get along.


Child-less Noah who lives on the wealthy Upper East Side and spends his days listening to NPR while eating fine food on his expensive furniture, has little in common with Michael who sleeps on his grandmother’s couch, plays games on his mother’s cracked cell phone, and is part of the school free food program and SNAP program when his grandmother’s welfare cheque runs out.

The two bicker their way through seeing blasts of Noah’s past, going to museums, and driving a Segway along the Promenade. Michael proves, however, to be extremely helpful in assisting Noah with his mystery and the two begin an uneasy truce.

Emma Donoghue is an Irish born writer living in Canada

Emma Donoghue proves yet again that she a knack for writing stories involving kids. This book could have easily been an overly saccharin story about a mismatched pair, but Donoghue veers away from that. Noah and Michael are an entertaining pair. Michael can be a pain (but who wouldn’t with that amount of trauma and being stuck on a boring trip eating weird food with a stranger) but is very likable even when or maybe especially whenhe is swearing like a sailor.  Noah can be stodgy and stuck in his ways, but is affable and never tries to talk down to Michael. When they do inevitably melt down, both behave like jerks. The two are more similar than either would want to admit and they are both rather alone in this world.

Donoghue quietly draws parallels regarding what happened during WWII is still happening today. When Michael says that the Nazi’s are like cops, Noah is aghast until Michael snaps back with reminders about Michael Brown Junior and Tamir Rice. There is something to be said about looking back into the past to realize that it is time to move forward in the future.

Here are some upcoming events that we will are very excited to be hosting. The events are also posted on our Facebooks The City & The City Books page. Come on out!

Monday, Sept 16th @ 7-9p at The City & The City Books 181 Ottawa St. N

Harriet Zaidman discusses her YA novel City on Strike.

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The 1919 Winnipeg General Strike was a key moment in Canadian history when demands of workers and returning soldiers all played out in the bloody streets of Winnipeg. The governing elite condemned the strike organizers as “Bolsheviks” and unleashed waves of violence. The country hasn’t fully healed since.

City on Strike is a riveting middle-grade fiction focusing on a 13-year-old boy and his younger sister, part of a poor but hardworking immigrant family in Winnipeg’s North End. And like so many others, it’s a family that gets drawn into the chaos that terrible spring.

Harriet Zaidman is an author and former teacher-librarian who writes for CM: Review of Materials and The Winnipeg Free Press. Harriet lives in Winnipeg.

Wednesday, Sept 18th 6:30-7:30 @ The Hearty Hooligan 292 Ottawa St. N

Book Club – My Year of Rest and Relaxation by Ottessa Moshfegh

From one of our boldest, most celebrated new literary voices, a novel about a young woman’s efforts to duck the ills of the world by embarking on an extended hibernation with the help of one of the worst psychiatrists in the annals of literature and the battery of medicines she prescribes.

Thursday, Oct 3 7-9p @ The City & The City Books 181 Ottawa St. N

In Conversation: Jesse Thistle author of bestselling book From the Ashes

From The Ashes

In this extraordinary and inspiring debut memoir, Jesse Thistle, once a high school dropout and now a rising Indigenous scholar, chronicles his life on the streets and how he overcame trauma and addiction to discover the truth about who he is.

If I can just make it to the next minute…then I might have a chance to live; I might have a chance to be something more than just a struggling crackhead.

From the Ashes is a remarkable memoir about hope and resilience, and a revelatory look into the life of a Métis-Cree man who refused to give up.


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