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 Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, his story—and his family's story—becomes the stuff of legends.
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).