by Emma Donoghue


West Maui Book Club Discussion Questions

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Any page numbers refer to iPad edition.


1. The definition of “Akin” given at the beginning of the book states, (adj.) 1. Related by blood. 2 similar in character. How does this definition apply to Noah and Michael? Ex: Noah had his treasured Fedora, tossed and retrieved. Michael had his F.O.E. (Family Over Everything) tattoo. Noah had his books; Michael his cellphone. Noah was searching for the meaning/purpose in his mother, Margot. Michael was dependent upon and missing his mother, Amber. Noah was cultured; Michael crude, but they found their middle ground.

2. Noah kept only three photographs after sorting through the items inside Fernande’s box of keepsakes. Looking at them he asks (Pg 6), “What did life add up to?” Was he referring to the narrowing down of what was important in life? Or to what was important to life for those left behind?

3. As the story unfolds, whom do you think helped the other the most? Noah or Michael? How did each change as a result?

4. Tikkum Olam, according to the story (Pg 10), is the Jewish concept for repairing the world. According to Wikipedia, it’s the prospect of overcoming all forms of idolatry, and by other Jewish denominations as an aspiration to behave and act constructively and beneficially. How did tikkum olam apply in this story? Would you also say it’s applicable today during the COVID global scare?

5. Several age-related quips in particular stood out for this reviewer: Pg. 3 ~ Ancient Romans used to distinguish between senectus (still lively) and decrepitus (done for). Pg. 36 ~ Approaching 80, everything gets closer to the bone. Pg. 332 ~At 79, it was imperative to be a realist. At 80 it was time to be an optimist. What were your favorite quips?

6. How were each of the characters “bridges for each other one way or another?” Consider (pg 333) “But really all Noah was attempting to do was fill a gap; throw his ungainly self down so the kid could cross over this abyss.” Or, (pg 334) “This boy was saving Noah from the trap of habit, the bleak tedium of counting down the years of his retirement. Michael was the little ark, crazily bobbing, in which one lucky old man could go sailing. the prospect of overcoming all forms of idolatry, and by other Jewish denominations as an aspiration to behave and act constructively and beneficially.

7. Where any other characters “bridges” for another? What about Rosa Figueroa, Joan, Vivienne, and especially Margot?

8. If Michael’s school offered other children shelter, why wasn’t he a candidate? (Pg 70)

9. What did you think of Michael’s language and Noah’s handling of it? What changed for Noah to start talking like him in the end, at least in his mind? Did you have a favorite exchange? Mine was learning the French form of affection for someone as “La petite crotte” (Pg 132), meaning “my little turd.”

Book Discussion Questions for Akin by Emma Donoghue ~ SallyFlint.com/blog

1. Michael's social worker warns Noah that Michael's behaviour can be challenging? How successfully did Donoghue portray this? What techniques did she employ?

2. In the story Noah is very distressed when he thinks his mother works as a German spy during World War 2, however, he learns later (spoiler alert) that she actually worked for the resistance movement. Can you find any parallels between this sub-plot and the story of Michael and his own parents?

3. What are the main themes explored in this story? What similarities of character did Michael and his Great Uncle Noah share?

4. Throughout the book Noah frequently educates Michael, explaining everyday phenomena as Chemistry constructs. He even explains away his dead wife's imaginary verbal interjections in his life. and dismisses them when they don't equate with his desires. How did this enhance or detract from your understanding of character and affect your enjoyment of the story?

5. In the book Noah realizes that Michael is saving him as much as he is saving Michael. He decides to stop smoking and take better care of his health in the hope of increasing his longevity of life. How do you think the unwritten future story of Michael and Noah will pan out?

6. In the story Donoghue makes several references to class and wealth. Do you think Michael's mum would have been less likely to be in jail if she was of a higher social standing?

7. What do you think really happened to Amber and Victor?

8. We learn far more about Noah's thoughts and emotions throughout the story than we do about those of Michael. What adjectives would you use to sum up Michael?

9. How would the story have been different if Michael had been a girl? Having discussed this explore what this reveals about your pre-existing views on gender and identity.

10. Do you think Noah made a wise or foolish choice to have Michael move in with him? Is Donaghue making any statement or judgement about Noah's and Joan's prior life and lifestyle choices? If so what?

Questions For When You Haven’t Read the Book

1. Do you think it is possible for an 80 year old man to effectively care for a teenager?

2. In the story Noah dislikes Michael's swearing and playing of violent games on his phone? Why do generational differences of outlook like these appear and how significant are they?

3. Why does Noah throw away the hat he has cherished for so many years? Why does Michael rescue it the next day?

4. Michael has a keen interest in taking photographs and particularly selfies. Donoghue seems to be suggesting that he may have inherited some of his Noah's father's talent. Do you have any inherited talent that you would like to share?

5. If you were placed in a situation where you had the opportunity to risk your own safety and life in order to save others do you think you would be a 'hero' or a 'coward'?

6. Would you be prepared to 'take on' and bring up a teenager, if you were the only family in a position to be able to help? Why or why not? |

Questions compiled by: Elaine Gallant
West Maui Book Club
April, 2020