3 out of 4 stars
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Man Shark by Gerald R. Knight is Book One of an enchanting trilogy: The Legends of Ḷainjin. This book is the first to be published, but its events occur in the middle of Books Two and Three. We pick up with our seafaring protagonist, Ḷainjin, visiting various atolls in his proa on the Pacific Ocean, having unsuccessfully completed a search for his missing mother. With a heavy heart and scars to prove his persistence, Ḷainjin earns the nickname Lōpako, or Man Shark, supposedly for the many sharks he has killed and teeth he has collected on his journey. He appears to be hopelessly wandering when, at sea, he meets the irooj's bold daughter, Liṃanṃan. The two quickly fall for each other's unique personality — her light-hearted, unabated attitude and his hardened yet spirited demeanor — and agree that he will sail home with her. Will the new lovers "choose" each other, as is custom? What will Ḷainjin's role be in his new home, with its different people and culture? Will he be able to settle at all?
This unique yet strangely familiar historical literary fiction is actually a legend, passed down orally by Pacific Islanders. Mr. Knight was a Peace Corps volunteer in the Marshall Islands and returned there after his education, absorbing its literature, culture, navigation techniques, and storytelling customs. Man Shark is the stunning result.
As was the presumed intention, I most enjoyed the storytelling. Mr. Knight's tone and voice are truly Ḷainjin's, as he holds steadfast to the oral tradition. Readers can hear, see, and even smell the Pacific Ocean through his descriptions. The islands and atolls are also vivid, and Mr. Knight beautifully incorporates the native language into the story. I loved the Internet searches and rabbit holes that this book sent me down. Interspersed throughout the tale are snippets of wisdom, usually conveyed by an elder. I noted one such adage: "The older will spend her nights talking to you about the events of the day; the younger will spend the day talking to others about the events of the night!”
Something should be said for the characters and dialogue, as well. Ḷainjin and Liṃanṃan are individually independent, yet they fall in love almost instantly and are as playful with each other as the waves lapping the shore. Each word said by a character is significant and adds witty, wise, or informative substance. Mr. Knight does an amazing job of showing, not telling, and there is a hint of unsolved mystery throughout the story. I got quite excited each time I had the chance to pick up this book and follow Ḷainjin's everyday adventures.
Due to erotic content (though mostly presented in metaphors) and some profanity, this book is best suited for adults. If that doesn't bother you and you are looking for an immersive escape, I very highly recommend this book. Fans of island myths will especially enjoy this. The sole thing that I disliked, to my great dismay, was the presence of grammatical and typographical errors, for which I must deduct a star. Otherwise, Man Shark is remarkable. I give this book a rating of 3 out of 4 stars. With an additional proofread, it would be elevated to its true status of an important, timeless read. I am eagerly awaiting the arrival of the rest of the trilogy.
Koṃṃool (thank you), Mr. Knight, for masterfully telling this tale.
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