Summary and book reviews of The Parking Lot Attendant by Nafkote Tamirat

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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  • Published:
    Mar 2018, 240 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Lisa Butts

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Book Summary

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.

ON THE SUBJECT OF HOW WE MET AYALE

On my fifteenth birthday, my father gave me permission to travel to and from school on my own. This news was delivered as a gift-wrapped-with-trust privilege, but it didn't escape me that this also meant he no longer had to drop me off or pick me up. I didn't mind. I knew that he needed to be alone and still for as long and as frequently as possible.

My father worked in various public high schools, fixing mechanical mishaps that could blossom into full-on catastrophes at any moment. He liked this job because it required almost zero contact with other human beings. An administrator would call into the service whose employ he was in and, when my father arrived, would recount the nature of the issue by repeating phrases that included, but were not limited to, "it wasn't my fault," "it just happened," "maybe we should replace the whole damn thing." My father would nod and wait patiently until left alone to determine what had actually ...

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Reviews

BookBrowse Review

BookBrowse

The author, Nafkote Tamirat, provides fascinating insight into the psychology of brainwashing, and how narcissistic predators with delusions of grandeur can wreak havoc on the young and vulnerable. Though the narrative is rather bleak, The Parking Lot Attendant contains surprising moments of comedy, thanks to the whip-smart and charming narrator, and her capacity for loving someone (even though he is the book's villain) is touching.

If the novel has a flaw, it is that the present-day sections of the story are somewhat ambiguous. This is by design as the narrator is not fully aware of what is happening, and consequently cannot relate it accurately to the reader. Her fate at the end of the novel is left open to interpretation. Ultimately, however, leaving the reader wishing to know more is not such a terrible offense, and can easily be interpreted as a testament to the book's compelling plot and characters.   (Reviewed by Lisa Butts).

Full Review Members Only (817 words).

Media Reviews

Library Journal
While it's reasonable to assume that the gullibility of the adolescent narrator shapes the plot's haziness, by the novel's end Tamirat has simply not provided enough of a story upon which to hang her fairly well-developed characters.

Kirkus Reviews
Captivating for both its unusual detail and observant take on teenage trust. Curious and delightful.

Publishers Weekly
Starred Review. Tamirat's wonderful debut novel weaves growing pains, immigrant troubles, and moments of biting humor. ...[a] riveting coming-of-age story full of murky motives, deep emotion, and memorable characters.

Booklist
Starred Review. Mysterious and steadily exciting...Tamirat’s razor-sharp prose fashions a magnificently dimensional and emotionally resonant narrator, herself a storyteller who frames her own tale with beguiling skill. This debut is remarkable in every way.

Author Blurb Victor LaValle, author of The Changeling
Nafkote Tamirat is a blazing new talent. The Parking Lot Attendant reads like David Mitchell and Graham Greene decided to collaborate on a novel. But guess what? Neither of those dudes could come up with something like this. Wild and witty, funny and rueful this is the enviable debut of a spectacular artist.

Author Blurb Gary Shteyngart, author of Super Sad True Love Story
A fine addition to immigrant literature that also manages to become a page-turning thriller that brings to mind such masterpieces as Chang-rae Lee's Native Speaker.

Author Blurb Molly Antopol, author of The UnAmericans
Nafkote Tamirat is a wonderful writer - generous and funny, intelligent and astute - and The Parking Lot Attendant is a spectacularly smart and moving novel I couldn't put down. A fantastic debut by a writer with talent in spades.

Author Blurb Naomi Jackson, author of The Star Side of Bird Hill
Steeped in allegory and dark humor, The Parking Lot Attendant will leave you wanting more, contemplating the impossibility of ever truly knowing the people you love.

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Beyond the Book

Cults and Cult Leaders in Contemporary Literature

The Parking Lot Attendant's Ayale is an archetypical cult leader – charismatic, intelligent, savage and manipulative. The novel's young narrator finds herself unwillingly ensnared in a cult through her association with Ayale. The cult leader is a fascinating figure, one that is frequently reproduced and reimagined in literature. Nafkote Tamirat's debut fits into a recent uptick in captivating cult-related books.



In Jennie Melamed's 2017 novel Gather the Daughters, the author presents a terrifying religious cult through the eyes of the young girls who must endure its oppressive rituals. The focus is on their suffering and ultimate rebellion rather than on the cult leaders, who are shadowy figures that emerge only to criticize and...

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