"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
“Washburn’s buzzy debut novel explores the shifting bonds of family and the inescapable pull of home.”
JOUMANA KHATIB, The New York Times Book Review
“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
“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.”
“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 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
“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
“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 homea 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
DEBUT 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. When Noa falls into the ocean as a child and is rescued by sharks and later as a middle schooler miraculously restores a playmate's mangled hand by touch, his reputation as a "healer" is made. Noa's brother, Dean, develops into a basketball phenomenon, aggressively recruited by colleges, and their sister, Kaui, breaks the curves in her mechanical engineering curriculum. The three siblings are seen by their parents as the saviors the parents could never be, but they are flawed saviors. Noa's healing power is erratic, and he eventually disappears in the Hawaiian wilderness in search of his destiny. His siblings also encounter roadblocks, largely of their own making, leading to greatly lowered expectations. All this wreaks havoc on the hopeful parents, with their father suffering a nervous breakdown and their mother carrying the burden of the family's travails. 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.
VERDICT A more than noteworthy first foray into contemporary fiction by Hawaiian native Washburn. [See Prepub Alert, 9/9/19.]—Michael Russo, Louisiana State Univ., Baton Rouge
By turns lyrical and gritty, a moving family story focuses on the aftermath of miracles.
From its opening pages, this debut novel juxtaposes the realities of life for a working-class Hawaiian family and the mysticism of the Native culture that shapes them, with surprising results. Augie and Malia and their children—sons Dean and Nainoa and daughter Kaui—find their lives forever changed when, during a boat tour, little Noa falls overboard and is rescued by sharks, unharmed, as witnessed by a boatload of passengers. It's an echo of old legends that is reinforced a few years later when the boy heals an accident victim's injuries (although his mother offers an origin story that suggests he was marked by the old gods from conception). Noa's gift is a source of both wonder and cold hard cash, not to mention a baffling burden for a kid. In chapters narrated in turn by each member of the family, the siblings grow up, Dean and Kaui always feeling they are in their brother's shadow, all of them balancing on the edge of poverty. Dean is a talented athlete, Noa and Kaui top students, and Augie and Malia manage to send all three to the mainland for college. But with the family fractured, all of them struggle, and only some find redemption. Washburn's prose is lush and inventive; a native of Hawai'i, he portrays the islands and their people with insight and love. He skillfully creates distinct voices for each of his narrators: resentful Dean, wisecracking Kaui, happy-go-lucky Augie, and Malia the true believer: "The kingdom of Hawai'i had long been broken—the hot rain forests and breathing green reefs crushed under the haole commerce of beach resorts, skyscrapers—and that was when the land had begun calling. I know this now because of you." That "you" is Noa, sweet and bighearted and wrecked by his unasked-for powers. Their stories go in unexpected directions, from hilarious to heartbreaking.
Striking style, memorable characters, and a believably miraculous premise add up to a beautifully crafted first novel.