Striking style, memorable characters, and a believably miraculous premise add up to a beautifully crafted first novel.

SHARKS IN THE TIME OF SAVIORS

By turns lyrical and gritty, a moving family story focuses on the aftermath of miracles.

From its opening pages, this debut novel juxtaposes the realities of life for a working-class Hawaiian family and the mysticism of the Native culture that shapes them, with surprising results. Augie and Malia and their children—sons Dean and Nainoa and daughter Kaui—find their lives forever changed when, during a boat tour, little Noa falls overboard and is rescued by sharks, unharmed, as witnessed by a boatload of passengers. It’s an echo of old legends that is reinforced a few years later when the boy heals an accident victim’s injuries (although his mother offers an origin story that suggests he was marked by the old gods from conception). Noa’s gift is a source of both wonder and cold hard cash, not to mention a baffling burden for a kid. In chapters narrated in turn by each member of the family, the siblings grow up, Dean and Kaui always feeling they are in their brother’s shadow, all of them balancing on the edge of poverty. Dean is a talented athlete, Noa and Kaui top students, and Augie and Malia manage to send all three to the mainland for college. But with the family fractured, all of them struggle, and only some find redemption. Washburn’s prose is lush and inventive; a native of Hawai’i, he portrays the islands and their people with insight and love. He skillfully creates distinct voices for each of his narrators: resentful Dean, wisecracking Kaui, happy-go-lucky Augie, and Malia the true believer: “The kingdom of Hawai’i had long been broken—the hot rain forests and breathing green reefs crushed under the haole commerce of beach resorts, skyscrapers—and that was when the land had begun calling. I know this now because of you.” That ”you” is Noa, sweet and bighearted and wrecked by his unasked-for powers. Their stories go in unexpected directions, from hilarious to heartbreaking.

Striking style, memorable characters, and a believably miraculous premise add up to a beautifully crafted first novel.

Pub Date: March 31, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-374-27208-1

Page Count: 384

Publisher: MCD/Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Review Posted Online: Dec. 23, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 15, 2020

Did you like this book?

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

THINGS FALL APART

Written with quiet dignity that builds to a climax of tragic force, this book about the dissolution of an African tribe, its traditions, and values, represents a welcome departure from the familiar "Me, white brother" genre.

Written by a Nigerian African trained in missionary schools, this novel tells quietly the story of a brave man, Okonkwo, whose life has absolute validity in terms of his culture, and who exercises his prerogative as a warrior, father, and husband with unflinching single mindedness. But into the complex Nigerian village filters the teachings of strangers, teachings so alien to the tribe, that resistance is impossible. One must distinguish a force to be able to oppose it, and to most, the talk of Christian salvation is no more than the babbling of incoherent children. Still, with his guns and persistence, the white man, amoeba-like, gradually absorbs the native culture and in despair, Okonkwo, unable to withstand the corrosion of what he, alone, understands to be the life force of his people, hangs himself. In the formlessness of the dying culture, it is the missionary who takes note of the event, reminding himself to give Okonkwo's gesture a line or two in his work, The Pacification of the Primitive Tribes of the Lower Niger.

This book sings with the terrible silence of dead civilizations in which once there was valor.

Pub Date: Jan. 23, 1958

ISBN: 0385474547

Page Count: 207

Publisher: McDowell, Obolensky

Review Posted Online: April 23, 2013

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 1958

Did you like this book?

No Comments Yet

Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing...

THE KITE RUNNER

Here’s a real find: a striking debut from an Afghan now living in the US. His passionate story of betrayal and redemption is framed by Afghanistan’s tragic recent past.

Moving back and forth between Afghanistan and California, and spanning almost 40 years, the story begins in Afghanistan in the tranquil 1960s. Our protagonist Amir is a child in Kabul. The most important people in his life are Baba and Hassan. Father Baba is a wealthy Pashtun merchant, a larger-than-life figure, fretting over his bookish weakling of a son (the mother died giving birth); Hassan is his sweet-natured playmate, son of their servant Ali and a Hazara. Pashtuns have always dominated and ridiculed Hazaras, so Amir can’t help teasing Hassan, even though the Hazara staunchly defends him against neighborhood bullies like the “sociopath” Assef. The day, in 1975, when 12-year-old Amir wins the annual kite-fighting tournament is the best and worst of his young life. He bonds with Baba at last but deserts Hassan when the latter is raped by Assef. And it gets worse. With the still-loyal Hassan a constant reminder of his guilt, Amir makes life impossible for him and Ali, ultimately forcing them to leave town. Fast forward to the Russian occupation, flight to America, life in the Afghan exile community in the Bay Area. Amir becomes a writer and marries a beautiful Afghan; Baba dies of cancer. Then, in 2001, the past comes roaring back. Rahim, Baba’s old business partner who knows all about Amir’s transgressions, calls from Pakistan. Hassan has been executed by the Taliban; his son, Sohrab, must be rescued. Will Amir wipe the slate clean? So he returns to the hell of Taliban-ruled Afghanistan and reclaims Sohrab from a Taliban leader (none other than Assef) after a terrifying showdown. Amir brings the traumatized child back to California and a bittersweet ending.

Rather than settle for a coming-of-age or travails-of-immigrants story, Hosseini has folded them both into this searing spectacle of hard-won personal salvation. All this, and a rich slice of Afghan culture too: irresistible.

Pub Date: June 2, 2003

ISBN: 1-57322-245-3

Page Count: 368

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: May 1, 2003

Did you like this book?

more