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] deftly intermixes genres in her highly unusual migration story . . . Her tale of uprootedness nods to familiar themes—the quest for status and a sense of belonging, tensions between family ties and personal agency, the fraught search for identity. But Tamirat feels free to cut across boundaries, blending surreal suspense with psychological realism."—The Atlantic Monthly
"It's a captivating story, and we come to care deeply for the unnamed narrator, a lonely, brave teenage girl who falls under the spell of a charming, mysteriously rich parking lot attendant named Ayale."—The Star Tribune (Minneapolis)
"Tamirat wonderfully captures her narrator’s teenage capriciousness, particularly in her feelings for Ayale, which slew between idolatry, infatuation, anger and disgust."—AM New York
"A searing novel about identity in America today."—Book Riot
"What does a girl do with parents who continually disappoint, with the desire to know a country that has made her, but she has never seen, with the overtures of a magnetic stranger, with her own haunting loneliness? Tamirat answers these questions and more in a thoughtful meditation on the thorny barbs of friendship, family, and patriotism in this fine debut novel. 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."—Naomi Jackson, author of The Star Side of Bird Hill
"Captivating for both its unusual detail and observant take on teenage trust."—Kirkus Reviews
"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."—Publishers Weekly (starred review)
Reviews from Goodreads
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,...