Sharks in the Time of Saviors is an emotional voyage. Sharks is a story of Hawaii, and the feeling of Hawaii under the skin for native islanders. Alternating perspective but beginning with their mother Malia and ending with their father, this book was an emotional gut punch that I”m still recovering from. Dean and Kaui grow up in the shadow of their brother Nainoa, who as a baby falls off the boat and then is rescued by sharks. Malia tells the story best, at the beginning of this book. Then, when he is a young teenager, perhaps pre-teen, a friend of Dean’s blows his hand up with a firework, and Nainoa somehow heals him. From that point on, word gets out in their town, and people come to visit Nainoa, seeking help with various ailments.
This story does not want to be contained by genres. Washburn skips around and employs all kinds of techniques, ranging from magical realism to drama to literary fiction, and back again. Each perspective, and there is at least one chapter from the perspective of each family member, is distinct and unique. Washburn utilizes language choices and dialect to distinguish between each character, and this style gives the multiple perspectives a deeper foothold into creating such a moving story.
Throughout the book the characters move around the idea of wanting reality to be different than it is. In the beginning, Malia speaks about their family’s poverty, and how they continued seeking a better life for themselves, but that it continued to be difficult because they couldn’t afford many of the basic necessities of living. Noa confronts this, when he is thought to be a savior and is asked over and over to change the circumstances of those around him. And when he tries to save a pregnant woman and her child who have been in a car accident, he realizes that some things are outside of his control no matter how badly he wants the outcome to be different. Dean discovers this time and time again, first when he runs his basketball skills to their limit, and again when he’s searching for Nainoa. Kaui faces her wall of change when she finally has a passionate relationship and realizes it’s not what the other person wants.
Out of all of them, their father is perhaps the most grounded. He has far less input than the rest of the family, in terms of chapters from his perspective, but he seems to maintain caring for each of his children and his wife. His humor continues throughout the story as a way of relating to each other. In the end, although others believe he has lost hope, he continues to be the one listening to what is happening all around him.
I loved this story. There are some deep dark recesses of the story, but overall it is one of hope and one of perseverance. Life is not easy, and it only gets more difficult when poverty leads you to make tough choices. The passion Washburn has for his culture and his characters is clear in each sentence. I I gained new perspective on Hawaiian culture that I’d not considered before, which I always appreciate.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.