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Excerpt from The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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The Parking Lot Attendant

A Novel

by Nafkote Tamirat

The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat X
The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat
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  • First Published:
    Mar 2018, 240 pages
    Aug 2019, 240 pages


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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts
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About this Book

Print Excerpt

"Who is Napoleon III? Careful, that might be a trick question."

"What is more important, the body or the soul?"

"What is virtue?"

"Do you have a boyfriend?"

Laughter for the first time, in an interrogation I found I was enjoying.

"What's your name?" I asked.

They laughed even harder before the man by the booth silenced them with a look.


"He's famous."

"Everyone knows him."

"I don't."

Ayale smiled.

"Admission of ignorance is the first step to gaining real knowledge."

"I have to go now."

"Come back soon, anytime during normal business hours. Tell your father that he's welcome, too: anyone who creates a genuine scholar in this day and age is a friend of mine."

"Thank you."

I escaped, almost running to Government Center, where I took the next train home. I tried to do my homework as if nothing had happened, only to strike out when my fidgeting knocked my father's toolbox onto the floor, where he was carrying out his weekly polishing. He looked at me, aghast. I braced myself for rebuke, but he merely began retrieving the casualties. I made as if to help, but he shook his head.

"Do you know someone named Kassahun Beyene?"

My surprise when he nodded made him laugh.

"How? No, but really: how?"

He kept chuckling as he examined a gleaming monkey wrench.

"Well, if it's the one I know, his father worked for the same cab company that I did."

I told him what I'd heard. When I'd finished, his face looked as if someone had scooped out everything inside, leaving only a flexible shell.

"His father must be devastated," he whispered. "To lose a child … unthinkable."

"I'm sorry."

"How did you find out?"

I explained.

"Are you sure it was really Ayale?"

"I mean, I've never met or heard of him before, but everyone else seemed convinced."

The hollows under his eyes and below his cheekbones seemed more pinched than usual as he got up and began heating water on the stove, tools forgotten.

"Are you hungry yet?"

"Wait … that's it?"

"What do you mean?"

"What are you going to do about Kassahun?"

"What do you expect me to do?"

He seemed furious, and though circumstances would soon prove that I was anything but the most observant, even I could tell that his anger was meant for someone else.

"When are you going to see Ayale?"

"Why would I go see him?" he shot back.

He was just snapping for snaps' sake now.

"He invited you!"

He gave me a small smile and nothing else.

"How about tomorrow? Can we go see him tomorrow?"

"Tomorrow's Saturday."


"He only works on weekdays."

"How do you know?"

"Ayale is a famous man."

"Famous for what?"

"For being where he shouldn't be and disappearing from where he should."

He refused to say anything more, busying himself with a box of ziti, pretending he couldn't hear any additional questions. I finally left it; I didn't want to pester him to the point where he'd decide I was to never see Ayale again, not as long as I was living under his roof. Furthermore, if such a decree were to be issued, I knew I'd have to disobey.

The weekend passed uneventfully, and on Monday, I found myself taking more copious notes than ever before, listening to everything my teachers said, searching for tidbits of information to pass along to Ayale as a sign of how each day brought me closer to wisdom. It didn't bother me that I sat with the unpopular Asian girls at lunch—all rejects from all races were relegated to their table—and I was unimpressed by the newest tattoo acquired by the boy who yearned to be Goth enough to sit at the Goth table. I was above all this. A scholar had to be, in order to better observe the masses, ponder self-created theories, scoff at the notion that life followed the maxims of our school's Statement of Vision: Good Citizenship, Kindness, Honesty, Character, Art, Sports, Teamwork, Success!

Excerpted from The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat. Copyright © 2018 by Nafkote Tamirat. Excerpted by permission of Henry Holt and Company. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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