Henry Holt and Co.
Hardcover, ISBN-13: 978-1250819857, 288 pages
August 9, 2022
”Look, look. A storm is coming. A storm is here.”
Galveston Island, Texas, is an amazing ecosystem brimming with life, death, and a long and interesting history. While The Last Karankawas by Kimberly Garza is fiction, with many well-developed characters, the author has woven several historical aspects into the prose, such as references to the Indigenous Karankawas of South Texas along the coast, Hurricane Ike in 2008, and the seawall erected after the devastating hurricane of 1900.
This story is told from many perspectives, both starting and ending with Maharlika, her mother Magdalena, and her daughter Carly. They are presumably the last descendants of the Karankawas, according to Magdalena. While some of the varied characters are islanders, or born on the island (BOI), many are migrants from other countries or from various places in the United States, carving out a life in this unique community on the Texas Gulf Coast, either by choice or by chance.
The Last Karankawas is Kimberly Garza’s first novel, and this extraordinary literary fiction delivers quite the powerhouse of emotions and dramatic narration that will both entertain and provoke deep thought. Galveston Island either draws or repels the characters in The Last Karankawas, but one thing is certain: the island is constantly changing from the hurricane winds and storm surges and with the ever-evolving human footprint. As the characters are introduced and developed, with their faults, mistakes, loves, and discretions laid bare, Hurricane Ike is headed straight for Galveston. While the storm is building and still far off, the characters reflect on their relationships, past and current decisions, and reasons for either staying or evacuating the island as Ike approaches, with each character preparing for the inevitable revisions that the storm will bring to the island and to their lives. With its incredible imagery and near mystical force, Hurricane Ike becomes a dominant character in its own right throughout the story, and when it finally hits Galveston, the island, structures and boats, and the inhabitants riding out the storm are pummeled and punished mercilessly.
The author displays exceptional talent in creating dynamic characters that will intrigue because they are both simplistic and complex. Readers interested in exploring the human condition through fiction will find more than enough to ponder in The Last Karankawas, no doubt sparking the curiosity to conduct additional research on the Karankawas, the hurricanes that have ravaged the Texas coast, and Galveston Island in general, as both a tourist attraction and a permanent home. In fact, as the last part of the story ends, take special note of the next section called Galveston: A Glossary & Guide for the Uninitiated Traveler because it is more than a catalog of some of Galveston’s historical landmarks and terms. This section is also an epilogue that should not be missed as it offers a novel way of tying up loose ends and providing closure by intertwining the fates of some of the fictional characters with several true details about Galveston, Texas.
The Last Karankawas shows the love/hate relationship that the characters have with each other and with a fickle island that gives as much as it takes; it is perfect for readers who enjoy their literary fiction steeped in humanity and a bit of South Texas history.
Kimberly Garza is a graduate of the University of Texas at Austin and the University of North Texas, where she earned a PhD in 2019. Her fiction and nonfiction have appeared in Copper Nickel, DIAGRAM, Creative Nonfiction, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere. A native Texan—born in Galveston, raised in Uvalde—she is an assistant professor of creative writing and literature at the University of Texas at San Antonio. The Last Karankawas is her first novel.