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In her first full-length novel, “The Parking Lot Attendant,” Nafkote Tamirat plunges into the life of a Boston-born teenager with Ethiopian parents. This unnamed girl tells the story of her disjointed family and the events that left her longing for a steadfast, loving figure in her life. She tells of Ayale, a charismatic and extremely enigmatic parking-lot attendant, whose ostensibly mundane job is unusual considering his far-reaching influence. She tells the story of life on an unnamed island, the mysterious setting of both the beginning and end of the novel. Over the course of 225 pages, the narrator slowly weaves these accounts together, culminating in questions that are slowly but all the more gratifyingly answered, barring some cliffhangers at the close of the novel.
The first-person point of view of the novel is colloquial enough for it to seem as if she, a 15-year-old girl, is the actual author. The unnamed narrator simply relays her life story to those who will listen, while staying eloquent enough for us to see the trademarks of a practiced writer (Tamirat) throughout the chapters. Some sentences are short and laden with expletives, whereas others are articulate and graceful. Overall, the descriptions are elegant, such as when the narrator describes the island’s sand as “white and, as far as it’s possible for sand to enjoy this quality, fluffy. There’s something seductive about it, especially when compared with the pebble-strewn gray-brown harshness of my childhood.” This immersive style of Tamirat’s writing is enthralling from the beginning to the end.
The novel has an autobiographical feel thanks to its familiarity with both Bostonian and Ethiopian culture, which provides intrigue. The introduction of Ayale’s character almost immediately compounds this interest, a man it seems the whole world is obsessed with. As the narrator begins to learn more and more about this character, it is easy to develop this obsession as well. “The Parking Lot Attendant” is bolstered through its use of descriptive background information—of Boston, of Ethiopian culture, of Ayale.
In addition to the mixed diction and syntax in this book, Tamirat’s employment of mystery makes for a captivating novel. First, one wonders how an Ethiopian family from Boston arrived at an unnamed island where they are clearly not welcomed. In the very first sentence of the book, the narrator says that they are “the newest and least liked members of the colony.” Then patterns of violence start to occur, followed by the connections, if any, between these scenarios and the many characters. Many other queries are left unanswered until the final chapters, and some of them are never fully resolved, including the cliffhanger at the very end of the novel. For readers who enjoy subtle mysteries, these puzzles may be positive attributes. For others, they may create an anxiety that is never entirely placated. However, everyone will almost inevitably find themselves turning page after page in an effort to quench their curiosity, a mark of a strong novel.
Another strength of “The Parking Lot Attendant” is the interplay between characters. The narrator’s father is the only person who undergoes a significant deal of character development. However, all of the relationships in the book are significantly dynamic. Characters themselves undergo changes, and this provides a refreshing aspect to the story.
Together, these attributes create a solid work by Tamirat. The one qualm is the abundance of unanswered questions at the end of the book, which force the use of imagination. But would the audience rather have it any other way?
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