STARRED REVIEW
March 13, 2018

Follow you anywhere

By Nafkote Tamirat

Nafkote Tamirat’s debut novel is a story of failure.

This isn’t a spoiler, because we meet the unnamed narrator, a girl in her late teens, and her father as they languish on some palmy, forsaken, unnamed island off the coast of east Africa. They’re there because of a man named Ayale. The book is the story of how this could have possibly happened.

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Nafkote Tamirat’s debut novel is a story of failure.

This isn’t a spoiler, because we meet the unnamed narrator, a girl in her late teens, and her father as they languish on some forsaken, palmy, unnamed island off the coast of east Africa. They’re there because of a man named Ayale. The book is the story of how this could have possibly happened.

The narrator has a hard life from the start. The American child of Ethiopian immigrants, she first lives with her mother, then is shunted off to her father. Both are majorly ineffectual as parents, and it is no wonder that the young woman is drawn to Ayale, the Ethiopian parking lot attendant of book’s title. She does her homework in the booth at his Boston parking lot and runs errands for him. He is kind and fatherly. He’s also much more than this—Ayale has plans, and none of them are good.

Tamirat has created fascinating and tragic characters. Ayale is charming, inscrutable, megalomaniacal and rotten to the core, and the narrator is a smart, bitter, tough girl—sometimes she carries on like a half-wild teenage boy—who knows that Ayale is bad but doesn’t care, or thinks she can handle it. She needs a father, because her real one doesn’t know what to do with her, doesn’t know how to succeed in America and ends up even more lost on the island.

All this makes the book seem dire, but it’s not. It’s often funny, with barbed, machine-gun dialogue worthy of Aaron Sorkin, but there’s a twist at the end. It happens so suddenly that you’ll miss it if you skip a few lines, but it plunges the tale into darkness. Everything has failed for the narrator: the love of her parents, their hopes for life in America, her friendship with Ayale, Ayale’s own screwy dreams and the island’s utopian vision. Everything has failed, that is, but the narrator. Because she’s the one who’s lived to tell the tale.

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The Parking Lot Attendant

The Parking Lot Attendant

By Nafkote Tamirat
Holt
ISBN 9781250128508

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