Named a New York Times Notable Book of the Year
Shortlisted for the Center For Fiction First Novel Prize
Named a Booklist Best Book of the Year
A mesmerizing, indelible coming-of-age story about a girl in Boston's tightly-knit Ethiopian community who falls under the spell of a charismatic hustler out to change the world
A haunting story of fatherhood, national identity, and what it means to be an immigrant in America today, Nafkote Tamirat's The Parking Lot Attendant explores how who we love, the choices we make, and the places we’re from combine to make us who we are.
The story begins on an undisclosed island where the unnamed narrator and her father are the two newest and least liked members of a commune that has taken up residence there. Though the commune was built on utopian principles, it quickly becomes clear that life here is not as harmonious as the founders intended. After immersing us in life on the island, our young heroine takes us back to Boston to recount the events that brought her here. Though she and her father belong to a wide Ethiopian network in the city, they mostly keep to themselves, which is how her father prefers it.
This detached existence only makes Ayale’s arrival on the scene more intoxicating. The unofficial king of Boston’s Ethiopian community, Ayale is a born hustler—when he turns his attention to the narrator, she feels seen for the first time. Ostensibly a parking lot attendant, Ayale soon proves to have other projects in the works, which the narrator becomes more and more entangled in to her father’s growing dismay. By the time the scope of Ayale’s schemes—and their repercussions—become apparent, our narrator has unwittingly become complicit in something much bigger and darker than she ever imagined.
Tamirat's wonderful debut novel weaves growing pains, immigrant troubles, and moments of biting humor. When the story opens, the unnamed 15-year-old narrator and her father are living on an island run by a shadowy collective. She then flashes back to her life in Boston with her father, an Ethiopian immigrant, and the story of how they ended up on the island. An overheard Amharic conversation draws her to much older Ayale, a fellow Ethiopian and parking lot attendant. Attracted to his challenging personality and intrigued by the sway he has over a wide range of devoted followers, the narrator becomes deeply attached to Ayale. Tension fills Tamirat's story: quotidian teenage frustrations are combined with the real danger of the narrator's unquestioning trust in Ayale's hasty explanations for his package delivery scheme. As questions pile up and strangers start lurking near the narrator's home, the danger rises and Ayale reveals his intentions. One of the debut's highlights is the narrator: she is both able to hold her own against Ayale in intellectual debates and desperate to gain his acceptance and love; like many teenagers, she is at once world-weary, naive, outspoken, and vulnerable. The unsettling conclusion serves as a perfect ending for this riveting coming-of-age story full of murky motives, deep emotion, and memorable characters.