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Literature / Timeswimmer

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Timeswimmer is a novel by Jamaican author Gerald Hausman, published in 2008 as part of the Island Fiction series of stories.

Shortly after a failed suicide attempt, a young Jamaican boy named Luke Griffin meets and befriends a loggerhead turtle named Odysseus. Turns out Odysseus is the Odysseus of Greek legend, having been turned into a turtle as a way for him to atone for his sins. He is also capable of time travel, and has been doing so throughout the ages, doing good wherever he can across various locations and time periods. And now, he needs Luke to help him on this latest stretch of the journey.

What follows is a series of increasingly bizarre adventures as Luke and Odysseus must outwit godlike figures, rescue various beings from death, fulfill specific tasks in each time-period they visit, and all the while avoid the machinations of the sadistic water-god Poseidon-Agwe while keeping the aforementioned godlike figures entertained with occasional stories, brought on by Luke's emerging storytelling abilities...


And yes, the novel's title is read as one word, not two separate words.


Tropes present in Timeswimmer:

  • All Myths Are True: Various gods from various mythologies are in fact the same beings under different identities, as Calypso-Erzulie explains.
  • The Atoner: Odysseus. The introductory section before Chapter 1 reveals that, with his consent, Zeus-Damballah turned him into a turtle to help him make up for all the lives he had slain.
    Odysseus: I was told to save lives for the rest of my days and until such time as Zeus-Damballah releases me from the ancient bond we made.
    Luke: Why did he do this to you?
    Odysseus: Because I killed so many men in battle, and I was sick of killing, and I wanted
  • Badass Longcoat: Baron Saturday.
  • Big Bad: Poseidon-Agwe.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Saint Expedite rescues Luke from being drowned by Poseidon-Agwe in the very last line of Chapter 21.
    Expedite: You almost get swallow by Poseidon-Agwe. But him no faster'n me.
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  • Blood Knight: Henry Morgan.
    Morgan: I want Panama. Not so much for the gold and silver—although that is also nice—but for the burning of the city. The flames will look lovely curling over the roofs into the night, don't you think?
  • Bullying a Dragon: In Chapter 25, the Nazis attempt to kill Ogoun Feraille. Surprisingly, though, instead of simply butchering them outright (as he clearly says he could do), Ogoun Feraille proposes that they allow Luke and Odysseus, who the Nazis have captive at that moment, to recite poetry for them, even offering to carry out the giant silver trough the soldiers have come for himself if they defeat him. The trope winds up being played straight, however, when the unimpressed Nazis shoot at Ogoun Feraille, only to be hit by their own ricocheting bullets. And then it turns out that it's actually Legba disguised as Ogoun Feraille.
  • Chekhov's Gunman: Legba, the Guardian of the Gates.
  • The Chosen Many: Luke is not the first boy to have gone journeying with Odysseus.
  • Cool Old Guy: Odysseus, when in human form. Saint Marron, one of the few allies Luke has during his adventure, is this as well.
  • Cosmic Plaything: In Chapter 5, Calypso-Erzulie warns that the various deities will treat Luke this way.
    Calypso-Erzulie: You are mere flesh. Living meat made for our pleasure.
  • Creepy Child: Zulie, one of the deities Luke encounters, takes on this appearance as her default look.
  • Cryptic Conversation: Many times.
  • Dreadlock Rasta: Saint Expedite, who has the appearance of a man wielding a surfboard, sports this hairstyle. His personality also goes against the grain of the other mythical figures' Jerkass attitude.
  • Drives Like Crazy: Gede Nibo.
  • Dying Dream: Turns out everything that was experienced from the point of Luke's suicide attempt was this...only to be subverted in that death doesn't actually take place.
  • Flash Step: Saint Expedite has this ability. As Saint Marron says of him in Chapter 19, "Him run 'bout so quick yuh cyan't see him."
  • Fun Personified: Saint Expedite.
  • Gentle Giant: Cyclope, an expy of the cyclops monster of Greek and Roman mythology.
  • Gold Makes Everything Shiny: Calypso-Erzulie is decked out in gold when first introduced. As Luke describes her in the narrative:
    Covered with gleaming rings, she glimmers...Circlets of gold on her arms. The woman's skin honey-gold. Her eyes gold, her teeth gold. And all about her, a golden light that dances and prances, most goldenly.
  • The Grim Reaper: Baron Saturday fills this role.
  • Involuntary Shapeshifting: Odysseus turns into an old man when he goes on land, and transforms into his sea-turtle form when he goes into any large enough body of water.
  • Jerkass Gods: The great majority of the deities Luke meets.
  • Mysterious Benefactor: Calypso-Erzulie. Her servant Ino later fulfills this role as well.
  • Mysterious Watcher: Legba.
  • Nice Guy: Saint Expedite is shown to be this among all the mythical figures in the story (even Calypso-Erzulie, who's also helpful to the protagonists, is said to be rather fickle in her temperament at times); most notably, Expedite is the only member of Zeus-Damballah's council in Chapter 14 to openly oppose their vote to kill Luke if he fails to satisfy them with a story that contains a riddle they can't answer correctly.
  • Oh, Crap!: Luke's expression in Chapter 15 when he realizes his tampering with one of the time windows on Odysseus's back has taken them to 1671 Panama...where an army of pirates led by Henry Morgan is waiting.
    Luke: What have I done?
  • Our Angels Are Different: Legba, the Guardian of the Gates, can take on the appearance of a winged seraph. Of course, as with other deities in the story, he can transform into other forms as he sees the need.
  • Parental Abandonment: Luke's mother drowned in a fishing accident, and his father abandoned him sometime prior to the beginning of the story. Luke's only relative is his grandfather Louis.
  • Present Tense Narrative: Coupled with a first-person narrative of the events taking place throughout most of the story, except for a brief segment before Chapter 1 and flashback sequences thereafter where the narrative is in the past tense.
  • Serious Business: The Common Entrance Examination, mentioned at the start of the story, for which Luke attempts suicide when he learns that he failed the exam. A week prior to his suicide attempt, a friend of his had gotten the news that he had failed the exam, and the friend was consequently and more successfully Driven to Suicide. (This is unfortunately Truth in Television, as the real-life exam is what determines whether a child will continue on to high school; for children who fail, especially those whose parents push them to succeed, failure is akin to actual death, as it is described in the novel.)
    • Throughout the adventure, Luke's ability to tell stories, while appearing innocent enough, is certainly dead serious for the deities to whom he tells the stories, in that if he can't tell a story with a riddle that they can't figure out, they'll kill him right there and then.
  • Starts with a Suicide: Attempted suicide, in this case—Luke has failed his Common Entrance Examination and resorts to killing himself. The attempt gets bungled, however, and he doesn't have the nerve to try again.
  • Stealth Hi/Bye: Odysseus has this ability, though he's not the only one in the story. Luke lampshades it in Chapter 19.
  • The Storyteller: Odysseus, and Luke's grandfather Louis. Luke learns to become one as well.
  • Things That Go "Bump" in the Night: Baron Saturday is the local folklore's bogeyman.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: Nazi soldiers show up as enemies in Chapters 24 and 25 and prove powerful enough to subdue Cyclope the cyclops-giant though really he submits willingly to them because he thinks they are gods.
  • Time Travel: Odysseus's turtle shell has panels in its design, like panels on a board game, and touching one of them transports him and Luke to the time and location depicted in the chosen panel.
  • Top God: Zeus-Damballah is introduced and frequently touted as this. Except he isn't—it's actually Legba.
  • Tower of Babel: In Chapter 14, Zeus-Damballah tells a variation of the familiar Tower of Babel story, then challenges Luke to provide its ending—threatening him with being sent to nine different Hells if he can't deliver. The ending Luke provides? An old woman thwarts the tower's builders by tricking them into removing a brick from the tower's base in the hope that they'll be able to go even higher; instead, predictably, the whole tower falls.
  • The Trickster: Gede Nibo, who is an in-universe expy of Jamaica's folklore trickster Anansi the spider.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: Many deities throughout the story can take on whatever form they wish. Including Poseidon-Agwe, who shows up during the journey to impede Luke and Odysseus as Ramses the turtle-hunter.
  • War Is Glorious: Ogoun Feraille, god of war.

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