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Sharks in the Time of Saviours

by Kawai Strong Washburn

Modern and Contemporary Fiction Book Club Recommendations Debut Books of the Month Debuts Family Drama Literary Fiction Sharing Diverse Voices

LoveReading Expert Review of Sharks in the Time of Saviours

Visionary and haunting, this Hawai’i set debut weaves myth and magic realism with the piercing stories of an unforgettable family.

Ancient gods and the elemental spirit of an island are interwoven with modern reality in this remarkable debut that begins with a family impoverished by the decline of the sugar cane industry. In the pounding, poetic words of Augie, the father of the household: ”I was once the sugarcane. I was the cane and clacking and the sugar-sweet smoke of the reaping season.”

Amidst escalating money struggles, a shiver of sharks save seven-year-old Nainoa from drowning, which the family embrace as a sign from Hawai’i’s ancient gods, especially when Nainoa also seems to have been bestowed with healing powers. Throughout the writing is majestically powerful, from punch-packing phrases that slam you in the gut, to monumental descriptions that rise, crash, roar and swell like Big Island waves, not least when life unravels again after Nainoi – now a young adult - and his siblings leave the island for various parts of the USA. Sister Kaui captures one of the novel’s core themes when, relocated to San Diego, she speaks of being, “A person of here and there, and not belonging in either place.” Meanwhile, in Portland, struggling with his healing gift, and the failings of this gift, Nainoa recalls the shark incident and memories call to him: “Home. Come home.”

With its sweeping sense of myth, this multi-voiced family saga is a brilliant, involving exposition of how the places we inhabit also inhabit us at bone-deep level. It rings and rages with the wrath, revival, healing and hope of its characters.

Head to our 'Black Lit Matters' list to find more must-read novels by black writers.

Joanne Owen

Sharks in the Time of Saviours Synopsis

In 1995 in Kailua-Kona, Hawai'i, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores is saved from drowning by a shiver of sharks. His family, struggling to make ends meet amidst the collapse of the sugar cane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favour from ancient Hawaiian gods.

But as time passes, this hope gives way to economic realities, forcing Nainoa and his siblings to seek salvation across the continental United States, leaving behind home and family.

With a profound command of language, Washburn's powerful debut novel examines what it means to be both of a place, and a stranger in it.

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Sharks in the Time of Saviours Press Reviews

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

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

Sharks in the Time of Saviours 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 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 THE BONES OF GRACE

Kawai Strong Washburn has written the great Hawaiian novel. This is the story of a family that becomes the story of the islands. A place that most people don't know outside of glossy postcards and beachside vacations . . . A volcanic powerhouse of a debut -- BENJAMIN PERCY, author of RED MOON

Washburn's buzzy debut novel explores the shifting bonds of family and the inescapable pull of home -New York Times, 13 Notable New Titles

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. Sharks in the Time of Saviours is a piece of magic -- OMAR EL AKKAD, author of AMERICAN WAR

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

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 - Oprah Magazine, 30 Most Anticipated Books of 2020

Sharks in the Time of Saviours 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 -

Other editions of this book

ISBN: 9781786896513
Publication date: 01/04/2021
Format: Paperback

ISBN: 9781786896483
Publication date: 02/04/2020
Format: Hardback

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About Kawai Strong Washburn

Kawai Strong Washburn was born and raised on the Hamakua coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i. His work has appeared in McSweeney's, Electric Literature and The Best American Nonrequired Reading, among others. He has received scholarships from the Tin House and Bread Loaf writer's workshops and has worked in software and as a climate policy advocate. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife and daughters. Sharks in the Time of Saviours is his first novel.

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