Magic realism is such a powerful tool! A dash of wonder in a story about “normal” things can give it stirring depths, open up new viewpoints. This is the case with Sharks in the Time of Saviours. Kawai Strong Washburn hits us with a debut novel bursting with Hawaiian soul, but also important issues about family and society. If you enjoy meaningful fiction with rich description and a mythological core, this is a great book to pick up next. Keep reading my book review for more information on what makes this work special.
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The day seven-year-old Nainoa falls into the sea and is rescued by sharks is when his parents become certain of the boy’s divine future. They see blessings from the old Gods of Hawaii in Noa as his intellect and wondrous abilities grow. He becomes a vessel for all their hopes for their own and the world’s prosperity. But their culture’s ancient spirit emerges now and then in each family member’s life, linking the old world with the modern.
Sharks in the Time of Saviours delivers the first-person perspectives of all family members: parents, two sons, and a daughter. Through their eyes, we see how the promise of Noa’s potential affects the dynamics between them all. The fractures and wonders of an unusual family, but which struggles like any other. Each character laces their chapters with their personality, language, thoughts, and emotions. As the children eventually leave to find their destinies in the US, things get more complex and engaging.
The story’s essence is in how Noa’s treatment and behaviour affects the family, more than the world around him. His older brother and little sister are often overlooked in favour of the miraculous son. The family’s finances – dire following the sugar cane industry’s collapse – also jump into the pile of expectations surrounding Noa and straining all relationships. A lot of themes emerge through this tense and heartbreaking situation: fate, individuality, pride, obligation…
Finally, all this emotional substance is wrapped in rich language, structure, and imagery. A warning: Sharks in the Time of Saviours probably isn’t for fast, casual reading. The characters’ voices are natural and easy to get into, but the unravelling of their lives dives into nitty-gritty details. Beautifully narrated, just occasionally experimental and distracting from the main flow of the story. Then again, the point of Washburn’s debut novel are its intricate people, not a crystal clear plot.
This is a very fulfilling book I’d highly recommend to fans of unique, descriptive, and thought-provoking narratives. The family’s rough journey to better understanding is as immersive as the Hawaiian context throughout this worthy addition to the subtler end of magic realism. Kawai Strong Washburn really has made quite an entrance to the literary world and hopefully this review helps you see why.
Intrigued? Get your copy here: Amazon, Waterstones, AbeBooks
Paperback release date: 2 March 2021
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