Little America

Sharks in the Time of Saviors

9780374720773 fc
Hardcover, MCD × FSG, 2020
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Kawai Strong Washburn

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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 a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears for the worst. But instead, Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story as the stuff of legends.

Nainoa’s family, struggling amidst the collapse of the sugarcane industry, hails his rescue as a sign of favor from ancient Hawaiian gods—a belief that appears validated after he exhibits puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor begins to drive the family apart: Nainoa, working now as a paramedic on the streets of Portland, struggles to fathom the full measure of his expanding abilities; further north in Washington, his older brother Dean hurtles into the world of elite college athletics, obsessed with wealth and fame; while in California, risk-obsessed younger sister Kaui navigates an unforgiving academic workload in an attempt to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.

When supernatural events revisit the Flores family in Hawai’i—with tragic consequences—they are all forced to reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival.

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An excerpt from Sharks in the Time of Saviors

MALIA, 1995


We were on top of our sleeping bags, the cool air minting our dampness, when your father’s face got serious and he rolled away from me. 

“You see that?” he asked.

I didn’t know what he saw—I was still coming out of some sort of fog, still rubbing my thighs together for the tingle there, the last of the oiled rush of our love—but then your father jolted to a sitting position. I rose to my knees, still sex-drunk. My tits swung in against his left biceps and my hair fell down across his shoulder and even though I was scared I felt sexy and almost wanted to pull him into me, right there, never mind the danger. 

“Look,” he whispered.

“Come on,” I said. “Stop messing around, lolo.”

“Look,” he said again. 

And I did, and what I saw yanked me tight. 

Out on top of the far ridge of Waipi‘o a long line of trembling lights had appeared, slowly dipping and rising as they moved along the valley’s crown. Green and white, flickering, it must have been fifty, and as we watched we saw the lights for what they were: fires. Torches. We’d heard of the night marchers but always assumed it was only a myth, part of a hymn of what had been lost to Hawai‘i, these ghosts of the long-dead ali‘i. But there they were. Marching slow on their way up the ridge, headed for the black back of the valley and whatever waited there for undead kings in all the damp and darkness. The string of torches plodded along the ridge, winking between the trees, dipping, then rising, until all at once the flames snuffed out. 


Our Life as the Volcano Cult

Story by Kawai Strong Washburn

Illustrations by Matt Buck

Shark tc edit orange

Calling Out to the Spirits of the Ancient World

Playlist by Kawai Strong Washburn

Art by Matt Buck

  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors is set in Hawaii with a native Hawaiian family dealing with race, class and poverty all the while being fiercely loyal to each other and their land. This loyalty comes with a price though as each sibling struggles with their particular gift, bouncing around episodes of rivalry and the tough decisions they feel they must make in order to step into their place in the world – a world that they and others must come to understand inextricably embraces their ancestry and their island home. This is inseparable to who they are. That the middle son is blessed with an otherworldly healing skill adds an extraordinary note to this family, bringing him and them to a kind of breaking point. Sharks in the Time of Saviors is compelling, gorgeous, thoughtful and unique. While praise like this has been said before Sharks in the Time of Saviors is absolutely a novel one will not forget. It’s stunning.”

    Sheryl Cotleur, Frontlist Buyer, Copperfield’s Books
  • “How do we confront our own deepest mysteries? Kawai Strong Washburn’s Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a feverish, booming orchestra of a novel that leaps off the cliff’s edge into a world of delirious strangeness, fury, and hope. Read it for its tour de force storytelling. Read it because it is, quite simply, endlessly, mesmerizing.”

    Paul Yoon, author of Snow Hunters
  • “Kawai Strong Washburn has written one of the finest debut novels I’ve read in years, a story about the resilience of family and resilience of home—a story at once lucid, original and transcendent. There is something of a Denis Johnson quality to Washburn’s writing, the way every sentence dances, moves in unexpected ways. Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a piece of magic.”

    Omar El Akkad, author of American War
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors is the story of a family, a people, and a legend, all wrapped in one. Faith and grief, rage and love, this book pulses with all of it. Kawai Strong Washburn makes his debut with a wealth of talent and a true artist's eye.”

    Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a lush, virtuosic novel with breathless scope and lasting depth. Kawai Strong Washburn’s vision is searing, his talent explosive, his heart beating loud and proud on every page.”

    Claire Vaye Watkins, author of Gold Fame Citrus
  • “Kawai Strong Washburn has written the great Hawaiian novel. He is a virtuoso who will dizzy and enchant you with sentences that are crazy lyrical but never distract from the raw, comic, devastating, loving familial magic that is the heart of the book. Sharks in the Time of Saviors is a volcanic powerhouse of a debut.”

    Benjamin Percy, author of Red Moon
  • Sharks in the Time of Saviors bursts with life. It is bright and beautifully noisy. It’s so good it hurts and hurts to where it heals. It is revelatory and unputdownable. Washburn is an extraordinarily brilliant new talent. This family saga is shark tooth sharp. Its pages shoot off crackles and sparks, and you come out of it changed. It is sublime.”

    TOMMY ORANGE, author of There There