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Sharks in the Time of Saviors: A Novel Hardcover – March 3, 2020
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“With prose that can be breathy and sweaty in one paragraph before gliding softly and tenderly into the next, this passionate writer cries out for us to see Hawaii in its totality: as a place of proud ancestors and gods and spirits, but also of crumbling families and hopelessness and poverty. Of mystery and beauty at every corner.”
―IMBOLO MBUE, The New York Times Book Review
“It’s fitting that Sharks in the Time of Saviors, the radiant debut novel by Kawai Strong Washburn, immediately grips you in its jaws, plunges you into Hawaiian waters, and finally releases you, breathless and changed...The true magic of this tale can be felt in how Washburn alchemizes Hawaiian myth and lore into a modern family epic...There’s something bewitching, too, in Washburn’s prose―the furious, lively spell of it.”
―KAUI HART HEMMINGS, O: The Oprah Magazine
“Mixes hardscrabble Hawaiian reality with flights of wonder and the supernatural in a way that is wholly original.”
―ANDERSON TEPPER, Vanity Fair
"Every once in a while, a debut novel is born into the world singing notes so unexpectedly pitch-perfect and melodic that reading it feels like a marvel. Such is the case with Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors, an epic family saga that nimbly weaves together threads of familial and cultural legend, of human connection and loss, class and capitalism, the meaning of home, all with prose that flows over the reader in a warm, welcome current."
―SARAH NEILSON, Seattle Times
“Reads like hula in modern prose, like the gods have chosen [Washburn] as a vessel to cram all the glory and sadness of these islands into the story of one family...It sounds far out, but much like J.D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey, it’s the ordinariness of the characters’ fears and desires that makes their spiritual connections believable and makes you cheer and weep for them. I tear up as I write this, thinking about so many of the sibling interactions that simultaneously feel like being immersed in a foreign culture, Hawaii, and like watching my own family.”
―JAIMAL YOGIS, San Francisco Chronicle
“Gorgeous, honest prose . . . Washburn does for Hawaiian people what Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao does for the Dominican diaspora.”
―ZORAIDA CÓRDOVA, Tor.com
“Sweeping, effervescent . . . One of the primary delights of this novel is the singular voice that Washburn creates for each of his narrators. He writes with verve and laces their language with wit and Hawaiicisms . . . This novel graces the reader with the spirit of Hawaii, from its fragrant forests to its cultural traditions, and feels, despite its undercurrent of sadness, like a dose of tropical sun.”
―JENNY SHANK, Minneapolis Star Tribune
“Part Hawaiian mythology, part modern day reality...I was wholly unprepared for the sheer magic of this debut novel, the fierce loyalty characters have for one another and their reverence for the land. Present are the ancestors and the spirits of the island, but also the harsh realities of a changing economy and a family in crisis. Washburn’s compassion for his characters and for his native Hawaiian landscape make for a compelling story about heritage and the bonds of family.”
―HEATHER JOHN FOGARTY, Los Angeles Times
“Sharks in the Time of Saviors is the novel you never knew you were waiting for. Old myths clash with new realities, love is in a ride or die with grief, faith rubs hard against magic, and comic flips with tragic so much they meld into something new. All told with daredevil lyricism to burn. A ferocious debut.”
―MARLON JAMES, author of Black Leopard, Red Wolf
“Sharks in the Time of Saviors bursts with life. It is bright and beautifully noisy. It’s so good it hurts and hurts to where it heals. It is revelatory and unputdownable. Washburn is an extraordinarily brilliant new talent. This family saga is shark tooth sharp. Its pages shoot off crackles and sparks, and you come out of it changed. It is sublime.”
―TOMMY ORANGE, author of There There
“Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a lush, virtuosic novel with breathless scope and lasting depth. Kawai Strong Washburn’s vision is searing, his talent explosive, his heart beating loud and proud on every page.”
―CLAIRE VAYE WATKINS, author of Gold Fame Citrus
“Sharks in the Time of Saviors is the story of a family, a people, and a legend, all wrapped in one. Faith and grief, rage and love, this book pulses with all of it. Kawai Strong Washburn makes his debut with a wealth of talent and a true artist's eye.”
―VICTOR LAVALLE, author of The Changeling
“How do we confront our own deepest mysteries? Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a feverish, booming orchestra of a novel that leaps off the cliff’s edge into a world of delirious strangeness, fury, and hope. Read it for its tour de force storytelling. Read it because it is, quite simply, endlessly, mesmerizing.”
―PAUL YOON, author of Snow Hunters
"Sharks in the Time of Saviours is a brilliant novel and one of the most engaging and memorable books I’ve read this year. Sentences sparkle, the narrative voices remain distinctive and complete, and the deep notes of magic sound under the realism of poverty and loss. I didn’t want it to end."
―SARAH MOSS, author of Ghost Wall
"Sharks in the Time of Saviours is a story of trauma passed down through the generations, of how poverty, grief, and broken dreams weave their way through the lives of one family. Yet it is a story told with joy, even humour, in lyrical, hypnotic prose that will stay with you long after you turn the last page."
―TAHMIMA ANAM, author of A Golden Age
“Kawai Strong Washburn has written one of the finest debut novels I’ve read in years, a story about the resilience of family and resilience of home―a story at once lucid, original and transcendent. There is something of a Denis Johnson quality to Washburn’s writing, the way every sentence dances, moves in unexpected ways. Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a piece of magic.”
―OMAR EL AKKAD, author of American War
“Kawai Strong Washburn has written the great Hawaiian novel. He is a virtuoso who will dizzy and enchant you with sentences that are crazy lyrical but never distract from the raw, comic, devastating, loving familial magic that is the heart of the book. Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a volcanic powerhouse of a debut.”
―BENJAMIN PERCY, author of Red Moon
"Magical realism is interwoven with the legends of Hawai’i in this haunting novel about family and destiny."
―USA Today (25 Most Popular Debuts Since the Start of COVID)
“Kawai Strong Washburn is making his debut, and it is a knockout.Sharks in the Time of Saviorsis mythical and grounded, humorous and heart wrenching, contemporary and timeless...Washburn’s debut beats with the complexity of familial love. Washburn is a gifted writer, one to watch, and more importantly one to read and expand your view of paradise.”
―AL WOODWORTH, Amazon Book Review (Amazon Editors’ Pick for March)
“At the heart of this beautiful novel is the complexity of family love, heartache, grief, and the pressures of brilliance.” ―KATHRYN SAVAGE, BOMB
“Washburn’s standout debut provides a vivid portrait of Hawaiian identity, mythology, and diaspora. . . a unique and spirited depiction of the 50th state and its children.”
“Washburn’s first novel is a story of Hawaii and of its strength, founded not merely in sentiment but in tangible, mystical forces rooted in history and in the very soil...Recalling Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying, each character in turn narrates portions of the story, an effective technique that offers a 360-degree perspective while keeping the story’s secrets until ready to be revealed...A more than noteworthy first foray into contemporary fiction by Hawaiian native Washburn.”
―LIBRARY JOURNAL (starred review)
“By turns lyrical and gritty, a moving family story focuses on the aftermath of miracles….Striking style, memorable characters, and a believably miraculous premise add up to a beautifully crafted first novel.”
―KIRKUS REVIEWS (starred review)
“Imagine The Corrections by Jonathan Franzen imbued with Hawaiian mysticism, and you might get a sense of this searing sibling saga about a boy gifted with supernatural healing abilities―and the family who lives in his shadow.”
“If readers wanted to pick a single theme encompassing Sharks, family rings true . . . But pigeonholing the book into one central theme does it and the author a disservice. Washburn delves into a Hawaii hidden from the Americanized kitsch of grass skirts, plastic leis and luxury getaways with natives waiting on and entertaining tourists. Instead he reveals how the island’s people are forced from their fields and culture for corporate development, then left to fend for themselves or adapt to Westernization . . . Washburn’s spellbinding, wrenching debut delivers five people trying to find themselves and each other across physical and spiritual impasses, with the essence of Hawaii and ‘osana’ as their guide.”
“Washburn’s supple prose moves between pidgin and its reconfigured grammar, through the indigenous mythology and its clash with contemporary culture and imperialism in the beguiling 50th state.”
―THE NATIONAL BOOK REVIEW
“Washburn’s prose is as magical as his story, and it is his great attention and love for his characters that makes this work rise to its highest levels… The book is sure to be read widely and joins a rich tradition of regionalist literature set in Hawaii. A novel fit to be taught next to Lois Ann Yamanaka’s Behold the Many or R. Zammora Linmark’s Rolling the R’s.”
―ASIAN AMERICAN LITERATURE FANS
“Literature can be a place to explore the nuance and fluidity of Washburn’s point of view, with craft that pushes against predetermined categories . . . ‘So, even though I am not native Hawaiian, I recognize that the islands are still ultimately a place of those people,’ he says. ‘And that, having grown up there, I feel more a product of the islands than I do any one specific ethnic group. I’m writing from that perspective.’”
“The surprises are definitely earned, the language stirs admiration and the pacing is swift. The observations of the natural world are worthy of an Annie Dillard or Rachel Carson.”
“A surreal family drama that functions as its own best argument for the necessity of art.”
―ANNA FITZPATRICK, Hazlitt
“A beautifully written debut novel.”
“Washburn, who was born and raised on the Big Island, offers a Hawai’i that takes in its technicolor-saturated vistas...Equally, he renders the precarities of paradise for Hawaiians through the family’s continued struggle to survive.”
“This radiant, lively novel deconstructs the role of saviors, miracles, and divine intervention―deftly demonstrating that those powers lie within us all. And that they can be channeled so as to transform and purify ourselves as well as the place we call home.”
“His prose is as lush as the islands that he writes about, and he uses it to create an opus that is both deeply specific to Hawaii and full of universal themes ― the tensions between magic and reality, expectation and disappointment, and, perhaps most importantly, exile and home.”
- Item Weight : 1.1 pounds
- Hardcover : 384 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0374272085
- ISBN-13 : 978-0374272081
- Dimensions : 5.74 x 1.28 x 8.58 inches
- Publisher : MCD (March 3, 2020)
- Language: : English
- Best Sellers Rank: #16,618 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
Top reviews from the United States
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A much deeper reading is required here, pay attention to the character development, As an avid book reader, this is the first that has moved me so deeply since "Beneath a Scarlet Sky". Each chapter is narrated by a member of the family, their perspectives, their feelings, their lives of joy, sorrow, questions of life. But don't get me wrong, this is not a sad book, it is very heartwarming, uplifting, and given the animist beliefs this is not a ride of fantasy or impracticality, this is real and feels like a true story. Don't miss this great novel.
The other problem was the ending - way, way too abrupt. I was actually shocked to turn the page and see the acknowledgements; it was wait, what? And I thought a lot more could have been made of some of the folkloric aspects, especially the hula, which I really wanted more of. But for a debut novel, well done.
Top reviews from other countries
The story takes place in Hawai’i, O'ahu, and the mainland. The writing is so transportive I felt like I was back visiting again for a short time. It is told from the viewpoint of the Flores family with Malia (mother), Dean and Nainoa (sons), and Kaui (daughter) being the main narrators. The islands were a main character as well and had plenty to say throughout. The Flores' are all such exquisitely flawed individuals but much like a parent loves their children no matter what, as a reader you are sometimes angry with them but never stop cherishing them. I really don't want to talk about the plot at all. Reading the synopsis is enough if you must but absolutely try going into this with no knowledge. You will be handsomely rewarded.
I loved the mother, Malia's, voice the most. Her knowledge of things connected to their ancestors was so grounding. There is also this delicious sense of foreboding coursing throughout. Most of the time we want the characters we love to run away from danger, to survive. In this case I was urging them forward into what, I really had no idea.