Skip to content

Sharks in the Time of Saviours

Sharks in the Time of Saviours by Kawai Strong Washburn

As seen:

By Kawai Strong Washburn

avg rating

7 reviews

A powerful debut novel that blends Hawaiian myth with the broken American dream


03 Oct 2021


An intriguing and powerful story but it didn't go the way I expected at the start! At times I loved the poetical and eloquent language and at times I hated the more pedestrian parts of real life. I found the colloquial language of Hawaii irritating at first but then just went with the flow and assumed it was accurate, the short chapters and different voices were confusing at times. It was hard to decide on the focus of the novel - is it about the myths and miracles of the gods or was it about the trials and difficulties of being a poor native family sidelined by the rich westernised incomers to the Islands and their attempts to work within the American capitalist society and the problems this caused. Within the family the tensions between the siblings because one was 'gifted' and treated better by their parents was well observed and sometimes difficult to read about. Noa and his gift didn't quite gel and didn't end in the way expected - seemed a bit of cop out. In the end I decided the novels strength and purposes was the lessons well known to many indigenous peoples - work with the land and it will look after you - but this is subsistence existence and the world has moved on! There is hope - marry the traditional ways with modern technology and we may find our way out. A somewhat mixed focus novel but a brilliant debut. Jackie at Methley

30 Sep 2021


This book tells the story of a Hawaiian family and the different paths followed, and challenges faced by their three children in the wake of a miraculous rescue of the middle child, Nainoa, when he was a small boy, by a shark, from sharks and the sea. It combines a mixture of gritty reality with supernatural, almost superhero, mysteries in spurts of magic realism.
It is a book all about connections, exploring the connections between the siblings and that of each of them with their parents, and how that changes over time. It also explores the connections between each member of the family and their homeland, between their future and their past, the city and the earth, the struggles of modern life and the pull of Hawaiian Mythology, as well as their relationships with others.
Each child works hard to succeed and divine what their chosen path should be, trying to find their way and purpose in life, break free from the poverty of their background and earn their parents’ pride and respect, facing lots of obstacles along the way. Each chapter is narrated by a different member of the family creating an interesting range of viewpoints and giving us a deeper insight into the thoughts and feelings of each character.
The ending creates more questions than answers, but overall I found this to be a fascinating exploration both of things universal and familiar, such as relationships and life choices, as well as delving into intriguing Haiwaiian mythology and beliefs of which, prior to this book, I knew nothing.

29 Sep 2021


A very different book incorporating Hawaiian culture and myths. Although it is written in pidgin I found it easy to read as the writing was almost poetic in places. The narrative switches between different members of the family to tell how the main story of Noa's rescue by the shark and his resulting links to the islands, impacts on them all. We move from thinking it is all about Noa to wondering if it is a bigger story of all the family or of all the Hawaiian peoples and the impact white culture has had on them. I was left wanting to know more about Hawaii.

28 Sep 2021

Julia M

An unusual book and sadly one with which I struggled, at times, especially in the first half. After the shark-incident and description of Nainoa's 'gift', I felt that there was little in the way of story-development and each chapter was an exploration of the characters' thoughts and feelings. I became a little frustrated waiting for something else to happen. The plot did develop in the second half of the novel and I was interested to read about what was occurring in the life of each of the family members and in particular, how grief impacted upon them.

The quality of the writing was very good and rather poetic in places. I enjoyed the chapters alternating between the voices and viewpoints of the different characters. There was a great deal of realism in the description of 'family dynamics', sibling rivalry, money struggles, etc.

Overall, a sad story but one which ended on an uplifting and beautiful note, reminiscent of poetry.

27 Sep 2021


Firstly, thanks to the Reading Agency for asking our Book Club to participate once again.

A very dramatic read which I thought rather disjointed in swapping around with the characters. However, I soon realized that it was a method to allow for each parent and their siblings to develop and display their individual handling of grief. Noa was seemingly seen by the family as gifted and was used to generate income for a while. His siblings were thought of as inferior to him and therefore their achievements were not seen as being positive by the parents.
As time went by they all became somewhat estranged to each other in varying degrees. A dark novel that begat a tragedy within the family. Well written and developed with an ending that gave some hope maybe???

21 Sep 2021

Pauline 30

An interesting exploration of what it means to be Hawaaian, within a family saga, following the family and their 3 children. They are all clever, even gifted but the mother's favourite is the eldest boy Noa who seems to have magical powers of healing . Eventually the pressure of that gift overwhelms him leading to tragedy. The family are very poor and life is a struggle but the children struggle in a different way once they leave the islands and loose their ancestral connections. It is a dark tale but ends on a very optimistic note.
The writing is good but I found it lacked narrative impetus at times. I did like the characters especially Kaui, the younger daughter who is overlooked but turns out the happiest. It was an unusual mixture of family saga and magical realism. The author explores what it means to be Polynesian and the negative influences of American culture. I can't say I knew anything about Hawaaii really and I had to look words up but I do feel I learnt something about the native culture.

20 Sep 2021


A blend of myth, and the reality of a family struggling with poverty and the added challenge of sibling rivalry; this novel didn't quite work for me, the frequent use of colloquial words interrupted the flow of this story. It left me feeling depressed about what the future holds for the young of today.

From the noticeboard

View our other programmes