This Is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila (+Giveaway)



Stories of paradise (say that tongue-in-cheek).

Synopsis of This Is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana KahakauwilaIn a stunning collection that announces the arrival of an incredible talent, Kristiana Kahakauwila travels the islands of Hawai'i, making the fabled place her own. Exploring the deep tensions between local and tourist, tradition and expectation, façade and authentic self, This Is Paradise provides an unforgettable portrait of life as it’s truly being lived on Maui, Oahu, Kaua'i and the Big Island.

My two cents

The beautifully designed cover captures the spirit of this collection so well: it's gorgeous yet disturbing in its beauty; it's garish yet there is a mute simplicity to the shadowed figure in the obvious Hawaiian pose.

I found this collection of short stories told by Hawaiian author Kristiana Kahakauwila a compelling and non-romanticized probe of Hawaiian life. Shattering the stereotype of the tropical, commercial "paradise," these stories are an insider view into the darker, grittier, the real Hawaii. It is also an exploration of the Hawaiian identity and of the many relationships that make up all our lives.

The juxtaposition of beauty and the disturbing, the obvious and the unspoken ... this is paradise, or our own version of paradise.

***

This book is a keeper. For one, this is a beautiful collection for short story lovers; I personally love a good short story and I am in awe of those who can write them as the medium demands impact with brevity. All of these are beautifully written: hard hitting, with complex characters, and most importantly, honest, heartfelt storytelling.

I felt that the author was extremely adept at telling these stories with a such a depth, vulnerability and honesty that it was sometimes felt painful to read. It is obvious that these stories are close to the author's own heart. I was quite surprised at the level of emotion they stirred up in me (sometimes dredged up in me). (Mind you, I was pretty much a mess when I finished with the last story).

***

There are six short stories in this slim volume. Each short story explores some type of relationship in all its multi-faceted complexity, beauty, and ugliness.

A whole gamut of relationships are explored: the sense of self-identifying with your own country and culture and even sub-culture, the coming-of-age when it comes to parental and sibling relations, the dynamics of large families, the tenderness and explosiveness of spousal relations, the iffy-ness of the thread between new lovers. I predict that one or more of these stories will grab you because you will be able to relate to the relationship portrayed.

This is Paradise follows the goings-on of a young American tourist girl in Honolulu. Several groups of native women -- surfer teenagers, women hired as housekeeping in the hotel, young women in a bar -- provide tongue-in-cheek commentary. While it highlights the tensions that exist between tourists and locals, it also brings to the fore the kinship that women feel toward their own.

Wanle is a young woman's heartbreaking journey as she plots revenge for the murder of her beloved father. Set in the rich subculture of cockfighting, she tries to come to grips with the picture of the father she idolized and whose shoes she longed to fill ... with the man he truly is. This is among my favourite stories as it is about that pivotal moment when one's eyes are opened to the humanity of one's own parents.

The Road to Hana details how an accidental run-in with a stray dog during a romantic drive begins the process of the unravelling of a relationship. An innocuous incident strips lovers Becky and Cameron of their outer trappings and showcases their immense differences as Hawaiians, and simply as people.

Thirty-Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral into a Drinking Game is an intriguing peek into the tenuous often unspoken familial relations, its deep-seated dynamics, secrets and realizations. What a strange mix: a traditional Hawaiian funeral, a grieving family, a drinking game, and 39 (and more) pointed observations about family.

Portrait of a Good Father opens with a faded old candid photograph of a young woman's father. This is an exploration of her relationship with her father, her mother, her brother ... and the other woman who figures in their family's life.

The Old Paniolo Way tells how a son tries to "come out" to his very traditional father ... at his father's deathbed. Can he stand to break his father's heart? Can he continue on with the pretense? Can his longsuffering sister keep this secret any longer? Drawn out and seemingly treading on eggshells, this is a quiet and heartwrenching struggle.

***

I have to say something about self-identity which is a running theme in these stories.

Kahakauwila delves into the nuances of the Hawaiian psyche. There are too many parallelisms with my own country, and with my own experiences that I am able to so easily succumb to Kahakauwila's voice.

Coming from the Philippines, a country known for its beaches and is a popular tourist destination. I see so many cultural similarities with Hawaii -- the cockfighting, a strongly patriarchal family, extended families, everyday life steeped in tradition. We also have a pervasive colonial past. It's inevitable that locals have their own views, some disparaging, of the white non-local (in Hawaii: "haole," in Filipino: "puti"). Then there are the "hapa-haole," those who are a mixture of two cultures. There are those who choose to stay, others choose to leave to make their mark in the bigger world, and those who sway between the two. But at the heart of the matter is, more often than not, people will have to answer the calling to come back to their roots.

I often had an uncanny feeling that she was vocalizing some of my own observations and feelings! But these observations are rarely vocalized much less written down for the world to see... and I think she is quite brave for being able to do so. She has done Hawaii proud with this collection.

Verdict: This is a special, heartfelt, honest and very personal book and I loved it! I'm putting this collection in my favourites shelf next to my Strange Pilgrims by Gabriel Garcia Marquez ... which really speaks volumes, as Strange Pilgrims is among my top books ever. This is a beautiful debut which will undoubtedly leave quite an impression on short story lovers out there!


Kristiana Kahakauwila photo credit Brandon NgAbout Kristiana Kahakauwila

KRISTIANA KAHAKAUWILA, a native Hawaiian, was raised in Southern California. She earned a master’s in fine arts from the University of Michigan and a bachelor’s degree in comparative literature from Princeton University. She has worked as a writer and editor for Wine SpectatorCigar Aficionado, and Highlights for Children magazines and taught English at Chaminade University in Honolulu. She is an assistant professor of creative writing at Western Washington University.

Giveaway Time!
Up for grabs is one paperback copy of
This Is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila
(US only)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Check out the full tour here.
I received an Advance Reader Copy through TLC Book Tours in exchange for an honest review.

 This Is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila

8 comments:

  1. What a pity that the giveaway is US only. Sounds like an interesting read.

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    1. Sorry about that Edith! I do hope you get your hand on this one, it is a beautiful collection!

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  2. Wow ... just, wow. This sounds like an absolutely amazing read. Thanks for being on the tour. I'm featuring your review on TLC's Facebook page today.

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  3. Thanks for the giveaway. I lived in Hawaii for 6 years as a child. It would be fun to revisit some of the old stomping grounds via the book. =)

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  4. Sounds absolutely amazing. I love Hawaii. I could live there. Thanks for hosting.

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  5. This book sounds like a wonderful read . My question is :
    Kristiana do you know people with the personalities in the stories that help you come up with the characters ? :)

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  6. This sounds like a very interesting book, there are always two sides to the story and I look forward to reading this collection to see the grittier side of paradise. Of course, I would love to see paradise at all. Hawaii is still on my bucket list of places to go! Thanks for the chance to win!

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  7. I really loved this book, too. I'm looking forward to writing my review this week. Glad you enjoyed it!

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