This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

paradiseI don’t read a lot of short stories, but I knew I’d love this book. Hawaii is one of my favorite places, but I’m always reminded how much I DON’T know about it. It’s one of those places where, even if you moved there, you wouldn’t be an insider. It’s divided racially and between tourists and residents. The Hawaii I see as a visitor will never be the real Hawaii.

It’s a fascinating place in so many ways.

But also these stories are beautifully written, each one very different and each one memorable. In fact the first story was my least favorite, because it was what I was expecting: the story that tells you, from the Hawaiian point of view, how stupid tourists are, and how much the locals resent them.

I can understand – or try to understand – the frustration. Working in any resort town and dealing with tourists, especially Americans, has to be tough.  And Hawaii can’t be an easy place to live, despite its incredible physical beauty.  I’m just thankful I occasionally get to be one of those tourists. I try not to be a jerk, but I’m still white and I’m very much an outsider. Nothing will change that.

Even the first story is more nuanced than it seems at first. And after that, well, the whole world expands.   These stories take place on different islands and really show you a range of language and culture. Kahakauwila doesn’t go easy on the reader; these stories are rich with pidgin dialect and strange, undefined Hawaiian words like ‘ono and kine and mahu.

There are six stories in this collection, including:

  • “Wanle” is a story about a young woman who grows up in the cock-fighting trade and it’s everything she knows. She wants only to make her father proud. Unfortunately, she’s torn between honoring her father’s memory and doing something that’s extremely distasteful to the man she loves.
  • “The Road to Hana” is a story about a couple who live in Honolulu but are seeing Maui as tourists. They have a fascinating discussion about what it means to be “from Hawaii” – or from anywhere for that matter.
  • “The Old Paniolo Way” is a story about two siblings caring for their dying rancher father. Both must come to terms with their role in the family and their relationship with their father.

One of my favorite stories is written as a list; it’s called “39 Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral into a Drinking Game.”

4) Take a drink because cane was burning next to Kaumuali’i Highway on the drive from Kehaka to Poipu, and the hot scent reminded you of your grandmother’s house with its upright piano, rattan furniture, and that deep cement sink in the washroom where laundry was scrubbed, and sometimes babies, too.  In the family room you and your older cousins used to jostle each other, each of you hoping to be the one who got to sit on grandma’s lap in her high-backed butterfly chair.

One year ago you moved to Honolulu from Los Angeles, just to be closer to her, and now she’s gone.

This book was just so good. It’s not long, and I was sorry it ended so soon. But I’m sure we’ll be reading more from this author.

  6 comments for “This is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila

  1. April 10, 2014 at 11:01 am

    I had the chance to review this one, and I’m really irked at myself that I passed it up. Gah!

  2. April 10, 2014 at 4:53 pm

    This is an amazing collection. I loved it too! I agree that the first story is quite profound than its first reading. But then all of them are special in their own way!

    Here’s my review:

  3. April 21, 2014 at 3:33 pm

    This sounds like a really interesting collection of stories. I’ve only visited Hawaii once, but I can certainly see that there is so much to write about!

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