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.
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.
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).