Canongate wins auction for epic Hawaiian debut

Canongate wins auction for epic Hawaiian debut

Canongate has acquired what it describes as a "breath-taking" debut novel from Kawai Strong Washburn. Publishing director Francis Bickmore bought UK and Commonwealth rights (excluding Canada, but including audio) at auction, from Rachel Clements at Abner Stein on behalf of Duvall Osteen at Aragi Inc.

Sharks in the Time of Saviours is billed as "an epic Hawaiian story of family, exile and the devastating search for salvation, blending Hawaiian myth with the broken American dream". The book will be Canongate’s lead debut for spring 2020, with Sean McDonald at Farrar, Straus & Giroux publishing alongside in the US.

In 1994 in Kailua-Kona, Hawai’i, seven-year-old Nainoa Flores is saved from drowning by a shiver of sharks. His family, struggling economically, hails his rescue as a sign of favour from ancient Hawaiian gods – a belief only further strengthened as he begins to exhibit unusual abilities. But as time passes, even his burgeoning abilities cannot overcome economic realities, forcing Nainoa and his siblings to leave everything they know and love, chasing potential success across the continental United States. When tragic events visit the family, everyone is forced to reckon with the desire to belong, to rescue, and to survive.

Kawai Strong Washburn was born and raised on the Hamakua coast of the Big Island of Hawai’i and now lives in the Bay Area of California. His work has appeared in Best American Nonrequired reading, McSweeney’s and Electric Literature, among others. 

Bickmore said ‘"his daredevil debut novel has stolen our hearts. Kawai Strong Washburn’s prose is captivating, jaw-dropping, heart-in-throat powerful. Like so much great literature, this book is, in its own way, a map. Without shying away from the truth of where we have reached as a civilisation, through one family’s tale of survival, it leads its readers on a path towards hope. Itdeserves to sit on the same shelf as novels by Hanya Yanagihara, Jonathan Franzen, Ruth Ozeki and Gabriel García Márquez."

Swedish rights were pre-empted by Norstedts and Italian rights were pre-empted by Europa. Canongate has already sold Australian rights to Nikki Christer at Penguin Random House Australia.