A young family is vacationing when their seven-year-old son falls overboard (which is seriously worst nightmare material)–that is, until a shark appears, cradling the child in its jaws and delivering him safely back to his family. Now the family thinks that everything is turning around for them–they’re clearly favored by the ancient Hawaiian gods–and everyone moves off the island seeking fame and fortune…except life doesn’t always work out like that, does it? Depicting life for working class Hawaiians—beyond hula-dancers, endless summers, and Disney’s Moana—SHARKS IN THE TIME OF SAVIORS introduces readers to a new, vital, and truly Hawai’ian literary voice, steeped in creation myths and mythology.
“By turns lyrical and gritty, a moving family story focuses on the aftermath of miracles… Striking style, memorable characters, and a believably miraculous premise add up to a beautifully crafted first novel.”–Kirkus Reviews, starred review
“Washburn’s first novel is a story of Hawaii and of its strength, founded not merely in sentiment but in tangible, mystical forces rooted in history and in the very soil… A more than noteworthy first foray into contemporary fiction by Hawaiian native Washburn.”–Library Journal, starred review
As the inaugural Genre For All feature, I’d like to offer a copy of SHARKS IN THE TIME OF SAVIORS to the first 15 librarians who email me (firstname.lastname@example.org)!
And now, for a Genre For All exclusive, Kawai Strong Washburn joins us to share his story of growing up in the middle of the ocean, writing SHARKS, and what libraries mean to him.
I grew up in Hawai’i, in a small town named Honoka’a, and my family didn’t have a ton of money. This meant little opportunity and a lot of isolation—I mean, we even lived an hour’s drive from the nearest bookstore. But I was lucky: a short walk from my school was a small local library. It was an old Plantation-style building, built in 1936, but from within its creaky wooden walls, I was invited into lives and worlds I otherwise never would have been able to experience. This meant by the time I was in high school, I’d seen Chicago and Russia; dystopian futures, exhilarating pasts; witnessed the lives of people I otherwise never would have known.
Fast-forward to us, here, now. I admit, I’m writing this letter in part because I have a book I want to talk to you about: my book, SHARKS IN THE TIME OF SAVIORS. It’s a novel set partially in that same small town I grew up in, and concerns a blue-collar Hawaiian-Filipino family whose lives are radically altered when they witness a miracle. That miracle—which appears to be from the hands of ancient Hawaiian gods—leads to a fracturing of the family, each of whom is tested by heartbreak, failure, and their own brushes with the same supernatural forces responsible for the original miracle.
I wrote this book because, despite all those stories I’d read in my library, I’d never found anything quite like it: A book that weaves together Hawaiian mythology with contemporary America, juxtaposing the two worlds against each other. The Hawaiian mythology (and its “magical realism” elements) felt particularly important to me, as the presence of incredible natural landscapes is inescapable throughout the islands; the unique perspective of the first Hawaiians to those lands is something that feels particularly important, given the current crisis of sustainability modern societies are facing globally.
Fun fact: large portions of the novel were (yes) written in public libraries over the course of the ten years it took me to complete. Libraries in the Shaw and Mount Pleasant neighborhoods in Washington, DC; Redwood City and San Carlos in California; even a few days in Honoka’a. Much of that was research, deep in the stacks with books on Native Hawaiian mythology, fundamentals of civil engineering, and even prison memoirs. But just as often, I was there simply because it was a place I could write in silence, with easy access to the works of countless writers I admired, all for free.
Now I’m offering my novel up to you. I’d like to think this book might take up residence in your libraries, find its way to the hands of a bus driver, entrepreneur, or knowledge-thirsty adolescent—the sort of patrons I’ve encountered in all my library visits—and give them the chance to experience a place and people they’ve never seen before, the same way library books did for me during all those afternoons in my small, library-blessed town in the middle of the Pacific.
Thank you for all that you do. Libraries represent the very best of modern civilization, and I wouldn’t be who I am today without them.
Kawai Strong Washburn
SHARKS IN THE TIME OF SAVIORS by Kawai Strong Washburn, ISBN 9780374272081, on sale now