Length: 240 pages
From the publisher:
This is the real Hawai`i: life is not the paradisiacal adventure that honeymooners or movie-goers see. Danger lurks on beautiful beaches, violence bubbles under the smooth surf, and characters come face-to-face with the inevitability of change and the need to define who they are against the forces of tradition and expectation. In these stories, a young woman decides to take revenge on the man who had her father murdered–only to find that her father wasn’t who she thought he was. Three different groups of Hawaiian women observe and comment on the progress of an American tourist through one day and one night in Honolulu. And a young couple have an encounter with a stray dog that shakes their relationship to the core.
Intimately tied to the Hawaiian Islands, This Is Paradise explores the relationships among native Hawaiians, local citizens, and emigrants from (and to) the contiguous forty-eight states. There is tension between locals and tourists, between locals and the military men that populate their communities, between local Hawaiian girls who never leave and those who do for higher education and then return. Kahakauwila is a careful observer of her protagonists’ actions–and, sometimes, their inaction. Her portrayal of people whose lives have lost their center of gravity is acute, often heartbreaking, and suffused with a deeply felt empathy.
Here’s what I thought:
Wow. I haven’t been this impressed by a first book in a while. Kahakauwila’s collection of short stories explores so many different aspects of Hawaiian life and culture that each story felt like a piece in a larger puzzle that only become clearer the more I read. You know how when you listen to a really great album, it’s more than just a collection of good songs–it’s the overall experience of listening to them together that makes it great? That’s how I felt about reading this book, and the fact that it’s made up of short stories worked particularly well to achieve this effect.
There are so many things to appreciate about This is Paradise. There’s the writing, which is straightforward but also lyrical. There are the characters, a mix of native Hawaiians, haoles and half haoles (strangers and those of mixed birth–haole literally means “another breath”), all of whom taught me something about what it means to be from Hawaii. There is the emotion, which is gut-wrenching at times in its honesty. Even though I’ve never been to Hawaii and knew nothing beyond the common stereotypes about its culture, I could relate to many of the intercultural conflicts that arise in these stories from having lived between two cultures myself.
This is a book that I will definitely go back and read again. Highly recommended.
About the author:
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 Spectator, Cigar 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.
Thanks so much to NetGalley and Hogarth for providing me with a copy of this book, and thanks to TLC Book Tours for giving me a chance to share my review.
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