THIS IS PARADISE
by Kristiana Kahakauwila
Fiction: Short Stories
Hogarth, July 9, 2013
Paperback, 240 pages
Source: Publisher, via TLC Book Tours
Kristiana Kahakauwila’s fiction debut is a gorgeous collection of stories about Hawaii. Most of us think of Hawaii as a tourist paradise of leis, luaus, and surfing lessons, but the islands Kahakauwila brings to life have a different flavor. Her Hawaii is a little bit gritty, a little bit dirty. It’s home.
“In my last semester at college I took a course in poetry and read the writers who once influenced him: Basho, Issa, Buson. They write about the beauty and majesty of nature, and I understand why he loved them. But the Indian failed to understand their work in its fullness, how their poems at times celebrate the violence, loss, sadness, and cruelty inherent in the natural world.”
This is Paradise, and the way it depicts Hawaii, is a lot like this quote from “The Road to Hana.” It’s vibrant and alive, but it’s also dangerous. Although the surface is lush and sparkling, there is another side to it that is dark and aching. It’s like life, really; Kahakauwila reminds is that the fullness of life is made of both beauty and sadness. The cover also does a great job of evoking the tone of this collection; it’s tropical and sexy but also slightly ominous.
These stories have a strong focus on the tension between tourists and locals — and even locals who have different notions of what it means to be local. Some of the characters were born in Hawaii but left for college and careers; having lived for years on the mainland, are they still local? Can they really return home? Other characters were born in the continental US but have Hawaiian ancestry; living in Hawaii now, are they native? What does it mean to belong to a place? “Was local being from a place, or just of it?” On of the characters in “The Road to Hana” wonders. In this story, a wedge is pushed between a couple as they discover their differences while traveling across one of the islands.
The stories in this collection also have a strong focus on family relationships, particularly ones between fathers and their children. “Wanle” is about a young woman who wants to follow in her father’s footsteps as a legendary cockfighter until her discovery of some unsettling truths forces her to reassess. “Thirty-Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into a Drinking Game” is a great, tongue-in-cheek guide to getting through any large family gathering. In “The Old Paniolo Way,” our narrator has returned home from California to help his father prepare for death. This was one of my favorite stories, and it is an exquisite conversation about what we think our parents expect from us and our fear of letting them down.
The title story is told collectively by the women of Waikiki as they go about their jobs, meet up with friends, and go out drinking at a bar. But on the periphery of their own lives, another story is taking place as a young, naive tourist finds herself on the dark side of Hawaiian nightlife. It’s a haunting story, and I love the first-person plural narration.
I really loved This is Paradise. The stories are full of the complexities of relationships and the tension between the need for home and the desire to escape. This is an excellent debut, and I’m thrilled to have had the opportunity to review it!
I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher via TLC Book Tours in exchange for my honest review.
THIS IS PARADISE GIVEAWAY
The publishers of this book have kindly offered a copy of This is Paradise to give away. To enter, click the Rafflecopter link below — silly WordPress won’t let me put the widget in this post! Please note that this giveaway is only open to US/Canadian residents. This giveaway will be open until 12 a.m. July 24.