Washburn’s depiction of [the sharks'] rescue is as vivid as it is splendid ... as in García Márquez’s work, the wonders and woes of being part of a community take center stage ... This may be his debut, but [Washburn] proves himself an old hand at dissecting the ways in which places—our connections to them, our disconnections from them—break us and remake us ... 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.
Every once in a while, a debut novel is born into the world singing notes so unexpectedly pitch-perfect and melodic that reading it feels like a marvel. Such is the case with Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks In the Time of Saviors, an epic family saga that nimbly weaves together threads of familial and cultural legend, of human connection and loss, class and capitalism, the meaning of home, all with prose that flows over the reader in a warm, welcome current ... Alternating points of view between Dean, Noa, Kaui and Malia, Washburn proves himself a true master of the ensemble novel, perfectly manifesting the voice of each character. Each narrative is not only utterly immersive and believable, but a shining example of how different family members are from each other, while simultaneously embodying the things that make them one ... Washburn’s sensuous prose is a gift; like the characters in the book, it both immerses the reader and leaves them searching—searching within, for what maps and stories we live by.
Washburn succeeds at making every point of view distinct ... Those picking up the novel with expectations of more genre elements will be disappointed as the magic is more spiritual and the plot is subtle and character driven ... Some readers will find it jarring to follow a tender moment of kissing followed by a defecating scene. There are moments where a beautiful line will be followed up with talk of body fluids and 'stinky breath.' While startling and a bit gross, Washburn doesn’t shy away from truth. Where Sharks in the Time of Saviors does thrive is the gorgeous, honest prose. Ideas of the past are pit against expectations of the future ... Washburn does for Hawaiian people what Junot Díaz’s The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao does for the Dominican diaspora (without the overt sexism).
A difficult-to-categorize fusion of myth and grit, it contrasts the earth deities of the 50th state with the daily grind of poverty and survival there, and comes up with a moving, original fusion of realism and the spiritual ... Washburn presents Nainoa’s magical dimension not only with restraint but with credibility and a sense of darkness ... There are obvious risks in attempting such a sweeping, big-picture narrative, yet Washburn’s commitment and steady voice lend depth and conviction. This is an immersive, unpredictable, lyrical tale, strong on immediacy and the overwhelming beauty and power of its geography. Linking the modern and the timeless, Washburn’s writing is fresh, forceful and to be relished.
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 questions the idea of any savior ... the novel takes somber turns ... Washburn’s reverence and longing for the land and traditions of Hawaii is so strong you might catch homesickness even if you’re a haole (non-Hawaiian) who does strange things like butter your rice and leave your shoes on indoors. 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.
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 ... A more than noteworthy first foray into contemporary fiction by Hawaiian native Washburn.
By turns lyrical and gritty, a moving family story focuses on the aftermath of miracles ... 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 ... 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.
Poised halfway between their cultural upbringing and hopes for the future, the family is riven by a horrific tragedy that will test them to the breaking point. Though perhaps overlong, Washburn’s debut is a unique and spirited depiction of the 50th state and its children.