Sharks in the Time of Saviours by Kawai Strong Washburn
UK Publication Date: 2nd April 2020
Reviewed by: Book Worm
This ARC was provided by Canongate (via NetGalley) in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis from Goodreads: 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.
My Thoughts: The writing is lyrical and I lost myself in the patois. This book has made me wish I knew more about Hawai’i and the myths and legends that abound there. I personally feel that a better understanding of the background of the novel would make for a greater appreciation of what you are reading.
I loved the magical realism that comes into everyday life even when away from Hawai’i on the mainland. Each member of the family maintains a spiritual connection with their homeland even if it is not always obvious. Hawai’i is beautifully described in all it’s deadly gloriousness. The story highlights the poverty of the native islanders and how while to the rest of the world Hawai’i may appear to be an island paradise those who are part of the island face an everyday struggle for survival.
As we follow each member of the family we see how the hands of the Hawai’ian gods rather than uniting a family end up by forcing it apart. Every single member of the family has something they wish they could change, that they could do better or that they could simply just do over. While it is Nainoa who appears to be the “special one” it soon becomes clear that the gods have touched the entire family but will they realise this and find each other again before it is too late.
Ultimately this is a book about family and the mistakes you make all while trying to do your best, it’s about the power of home and of the land where you were born and most importantly it is about giving something back and sharing whatever gifts you are given.
Who would like this? I would recommend this to anyone who already knows the myths of Hawai’i and can appreciate the story as well as those who want to learn more and who enjoy magical realism and stories that show there is a place for ancient gods in our modern world.
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