Monday, November 16, 2020

Sharks in the Time of Saviors - Kawai Strong Washburn

 Summary: "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

In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawaii, on a rare family vacation, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard a cruise ship into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.

Nainoa's family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods--a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family's legacy.

When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawai'i--with tragic consequences--they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival. (Summary and pic from

My Review: There were a lot of things I enjoyed about this book. First of all, I loved the immersion in Hawaiian culture. I just reviewed Fire and Vengeance, and that also took place in Hawaii, and I find that sometimes my reading goes in spurts like that and it’s really enjoyable. I’m all about a deep dive into different cultures or people. I think it’s fascinating, especially if it’s a topic I don’t know a lot about. Although I have been to Hawaii exactly once, and that was 30 years ago (I was a child, and yet it seems strange to be able to say 30 years ago and not be exaggerating), I’ve always felt a pull by it. I’ve been to many tropical locations since (well , not many, but some) and they are beautiful and paradise, but Hawaii remains the mysterious, volcanic, lush, laid back and yet tempestuous exotic place. It’s part of the United States and yet it’s completely different—geographically and culturally, in a lot of ways. I loved the way Kawai Strong Washburn fostered this in this book. The culture is familiar and yet foreign, and it is so rich and varied because of the cultural backgrounds of the people. I appreciated Washburn addressing the different races of the people in Hawaii, and it was interesting to see how those cultural interactions have come to a cohesive whole over the years.

I really enjoyed the magical realism in this book. It was the best kind of magical realism, I think, wherein it is almost excusable as just a person with extraordinary talents and abilities, and barely crosses the line where actual magic is performed. I like books about real magic, too, but it is fun to think that there are some things in the world that really are magical; that there are enough unexplained things that the world still holds some mystery and discovery yet to be had.

Washburn was not afraid to take on some difficult family relationships and issues. Even the most functional family still has issues to work through, right? Everyone has experienced some sort of trauma or difficulties, and this family certainly had its fair share. Washburn is able to help us understand each person’s troubles with the rotating narrator viewpoint, which I usually really enjoy. This was no exception. I like seeing what different characters are thinking and feeling, and this works especially well when the characters are in different geographical places.

This book had an interesting and powerful ending. I liked that it came full circle and resolved all the loose ends. Although it didn’t necessarily have the perfect happy ending, it definitely felt satisfying. This book was well-written. Washburn takes on a lot and delivers in the end.

My Rating: 4 Stars

For the sensitive reader: There is language and some discussion of sex, including same-sex relationships.

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