Book Review – This is Paradise: Stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila

This collection of stories by Kristiana Kahakauwila, a native-born Hawaiian, gives readers a different perspective on her birthplace. The six short stories contrast Hawaii as she remembers it with the Hawaii of today in a skillful transition from traditional to modern. Raised and educated in America, the author has displayed an extensive knowledge of Hawaii and a profound, impressive insight on the many aspects of human nature. She writes of the glitzy, tawdry places the tourists know and reveals the wasteful spending and carelessness the local people are forced to observe and accept. Although many of them resent this lack of respect for their Hawaiian customs and traditions, just as many are resigned to the fact that this paradise is no longer theirs.

The central theme of the book is nostalgia, a yearning to return to the paradise Wanle the storyteller reminiscences about, only to discover it is not and can never be the same. Thomas Wolfe once wrote “only the earth endures” in You Can’t Go Home Again, and the author recognizes that the natural beauty of Hawaii will probably endure long after the people she knew and the relationships she had are gone.

I found it easy to follow Wanle’s fascinating, memorable story, but much more difficult to follow each interesting character in the book, simply because there are so many. On the other hand, readers can readily visualize the author’s perception of love and passion, empathy and kindness, brutality and death. The use of Hawaii Creole “pidgin” English in the dialogue among the local people enhances the author’s simple, unaffected style of writing. Although this does add flavor to the characterization, it can be confusing to read unless you are familiar with the language. A reference to an online source of translation for these Hawaiian terms might be useful for the reader.

You will enjoy the delightful humor in the Thirty-Nine Rules For Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into A Drinking Game. A typically sad occasion becomes a lively, social gathering where friends and relatives drink for any reason, for old folks and their memories, for young cousins and their new adventures, for lovers and affairs, for favorite pastimes and delicious food.

This collection of well-written stories highlights the negative effects of tourism and the inevitable loss of old traditions and values, but the concept is not new and Hawaii is no exception. Although countries benefit economically from the tourist trade, the natural beauty of the environment suffers from exploitation and abuse. Much of the charm and appeal of the local culture is slowly disappearing, the beaches are crowded and no longer pristine, and the quaint shops on uncrowded streets have been replaced by bright lights and rows of popular restaurants and hotels. I found the reality of this paradise somewhat depressing at times when realizing that most of Hawaii as it once was must be left to our own imagination, or memories if we have them. Yet, some will long to return, as Wanle does, only to be disappointed when they realize it is gone.

Kristriana Kahakauwila is a talented, young author with remarkable potential for a successful career and a bright future in the writing world.

Published by Hogarth, imprint of the Crown Publishing Group, a division of Random House, Inc. New York
July 9, 2013
Random House: $16.00
Amazon. $12.61 (Prime)
Kindle: $7.99

Sharon L Slayton

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