This is Paradise is a short story collection written by Kristiana Kahakauwila, a hapa author of kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian), German and Norwegian extract. In efforts to set up this blogging event, a person contacted me through my blog with the recommendation I reach out to and possibly feature Kristiana during this month. I immediately went to Goodreads to find out more and purchased the e-book version of This is Paradise: Stories. Over the course of this year, I am more and more interested in short story collections, poetry collections, and anthologies. I love the diversity of stories told within one collection and I love how a collection comes together as a whole. This collection has many powerful themes and cohesively has a messages for readers about love, family, loss, tragedy, authenticity, and belonging. In total, this collection consists of six stories.
This is Paradise is steeped in culture and tells stories from the real Hawaii. Now, I know these stories are not the only stories from Hawaii and not the only experiences of Native Hawaiian people. We cannot fall into the trap of a single story. I use the phrase real Hawaii because I think this collection challenges the dominant narrative of Hawaii as a place of tourism and paradise. The stories expose a truth we do not hear often. They expose a truth that includes culture, pain, belonging, family, and loss. They push back against what we think of Hawaii – beaches, surfing, resorts, and fancy alcoholic beverages. We need these challenges because we are not taught much of anything about Hawaii in US History classes, except a brief overview of its statehood. Kristiana’s six uniquely Hawaiian stories are a start in the right direction.
I want to highlight three out of the six stories. By no means does this mean I did not like the other three. These three stood out to me for various reasons.
This is Paradise
This is the first story in the collection as well asthe title of the entire collection. Similar to what I was walking about above, this story is a direct challenge to the dominant narrative and perceptions of Hawaii. The story follows a group of local women who are going out at night. They see a tourist at the bar/club they go to and see that tourist woman interact with a local they know to be dangerous. They attempt to look after the tourist but they are quickly dismissed as local “fun killers.” In my interpretation of the story, this is less about the dangers of Hawaii and more about the perception of paradise from outsiders and tourists. The drastic imagery and tragedy in this story tells me as a reader, I do not know the real Hawaii and other outsiders do not know the real Hawaii. I liked that this is the story that opens the collection. It sets the tone for the next five stories and the types of themes we as readers will experience.
The Road to Hana
The Road to Hana grabbed me because it deals with the struggle of what it means to be from somewhere. The main character is constantly debating whether he is local, whether he is Hawaiian. The symbolism is strong on the drive to Hana, focusing on themes of belonging and authenticity. I have had similar thoughts throughout my life when it comes to racial, ethnic, and national origin identity. As a multiracial person where do I belong? In what communities will I be accepted in? Even if I am from somewhere or of a particular decent, will the people there consider me a part of the community? I enjoyed this story because for me it brought up more questions than answers and made me think of my own identities and positionalities.
The Old Paniolo Way
In this short story, the author explores sexual orientation identity within the context of culture. In subtle ways, the story exposes the homophobia and transphobia in the community and the main character’s specific family and illustrates the his struggle between living fully in their own identity and doing what he thinks he must to keep their family together. For me, this story was powerful because it was held together by the backdrop of a dying parent. I had a deep personal reaction to this story particularly with the relationship between the main character and his sister. Without giving too much away, his sister says something towards the end that breaks my heart about intentions and impacts of coming out. It made me reflect on my own family and my own relationship with my sister. As the closing short story, I found it to take the reader to a natural conclusion in the collection.
Overall, a fantastic collection of short stories from a hapa Native Hawaiian author. I would recommend you try a find a copy – my best advice would be through amazon. I think the e-copy of the book is around $12 and you may be able to find a print copy through online sources. I am looking forward to what Kristiana will write next! She is an author I will be keeping an eye on.
Final Rating 4.4/5