Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn


A groundbreaking debut novel that folds the legends of Hawai’ian gods into an engrossing family saga; a story of exile and the pursuit of salvation.

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“A powerful, heartbreaking, and hopeful story about the ways in which life’s brutal realities affect individuals in myriad way, even when they’re family.

What begins as lush myth-making slips quietly into the realities of poverty, of the bad decisions and cruel circumstances that force family members to face the expectations of them and the consequences of those expectations. Washburn skillfully uses magical realism to explore race and class in Hawaii and the impact of colonialism – not just the “explorers” but also the influx of wealthy white people who continue to make Hawaii home – on Native Hawaiians.

This is a book about potential, about the distinct desires and sacrifices that we have and make for family.”


In 1995 Kailua-Kona, Hawai‘i, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores falls overboard into the Pacific Ocean. When a shiver of sharks appears in the water, everyone fears the worst. But Noa is gingerly delivered to his mother in the jaws of a shark, marking his story the stuff of legends.

Kawai Strong Washburn’s debut, Sharks in the Time of Saviors, follows Noa’s family as they struggle amid the collapsing sugarcane industry. They hail his rescue as a sign of the favor of ancient Hawaiian gods—a belief that appears reinforced by Noa’s puzzling new abilities. But as time passes, this supposed divine favor drives the family apart: Noa, now working as a paramedic in gritty Oregon neighborhoods, attempts to fathom his expanding abilities; farther north, in Washington, his older brother Dean, becoming obsessed with wealth and fame, hurtles into the world of elite college athletics; while in California, risk-addicted younger sister Kaui navigates unforgiving academic and wilderness landscapes to forge her independence from the family’s legacy.

When supernatural events revisit the Flores household in Hawai‘i—this time with tragic consequences—everyone must reckon with the bonds of family, the meaning of heritage, and the cost of survival.

Sharks in the Time of Saviors by Kawai Strong Washburn