Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Review: This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

Hawai'i is all palm trees, leis, surf, and sun, right? Well, perhaps it is for the tourists who swarm its beaches but for the people who live there, it is much more layered than that. I remember going to visit my dad's aunt and cousins there when I was in high school and being fascinated by the difference between the tourist areas (where we stayed) and the neighborhood where they lived. We got the best of both worlds, seeing the shiny, perfect, picture postcard place as well as the more real, hidden part of the island. Kristiana Kahakauwila's story collection, This Is Paradise, looks at the real Hawai'i, the one that most tourists don't ever see, the one that exists with all the truth and darkness and reality that exists in places not dotted with lush tropical plants, gorgeous vistas, and the steady pounding of the ocean.

In her six powerful, thematically linked stories, Kahakauwila digs beneath the commercial, tourist impressions of Hawai'i to the tensions and the grit of real life on the islands. She expertly plumbs the depths of relationship, to each other people, to place, and to self. She captures the conflict between native Hawai'ian and tourist as well as the layers of within the native culture itself, including the tensions between those who left the island and those who have stayed as well as the island-born whites and the native Hawai'ians. She touches on the colonial heritage and its continuing impact on the culture and the overwhelming importance of family. Each of the stories is fully realized, compact, and evocative, teeming with nuance and beauty even as they are equally uncomfortable and unflinching.

The title story, "This Is Paradise,", narrated by a chorus of different native women is an examination of the darker side of paradise. Alternately told by a group of matronly hotel maids, young and fearless native surfer girls, and business women who have returned to the island armed with their degrees, the story follows a naive female tourist as she goes about her last day on the island. "Wanle" is the story of a young woman who is driven to avenge her beloved father's murder by beating his long time adversary at cockfighting even as she uncovers truths about her father she never before knew. "The Road to Hana" follows a couple, he an island-born white man and she a non-island born Hawai'ian, as they travel a sacred route and encounter a mangy native dog. "The Old Paniolo Way" is about a son who has returned to the island as his father is dying and the struggle he faces over whether to come out to his father or to let the old man die without knowing his truth. The black comedy of "Thirty-Nine Rules For Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into a Drinking Game" is equal parts entertaining and heartbreaking as a Hawai'ian woman from California feels like an outsider at her grandmother's funeral. And "Portrait of a Good Father" examines the complexity of family from the viewpoint of a woman reflecting on her disintegrating family, her place in that family, and in particular, her father's role in the disintegration and shifting shape of it.

Each of the stories is tightly written and cuts to the bone. Kahakauwila clearly loves the Hawai'i she knows, the real Hawai'i, and has created a complex and moving tribute to it rather than to the superficial dancing hula girl Hawai'i of popular culture. Short story fans will love this masterful collection that peels back the many layers of paradise to expose the people and the place as they really are, troubled and beautiful both.

For more information about Kristiana Kahakauwila and the book, check out her website or her Facebook page. Follow the rest of the blog tour or look at the amazon reviews for others' thoughts and opinions on the book.

Thanks to Lisa from TLC Book Tours and the publisher for sending me a copy of this book to review.

1 comment:

  1. "troubled and beautiful both" I think this is the truth of almost all people and places, once you look under the surface.

    Thanks for the fantastic review for the tour!


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