This story collection (240 pages) was published in July of 2013 by Hogarth. The book takes you to the Hawaiian islands. Melissa read This Is Paradise and loved it; it wouldn't be on our site if she didn't recommend it.
This remarkable story collection will transport you to Maui, Oahu, Kaua’i, and the Big Island. Sure, the islands can be a vacation paradise, but for the people who live there year-round, it’s simply home — the place they work, love, struggle, survive, and triumph.
Author Kristiana Kahakauwila is a hapa writer of native Hawaiian, German, and Norwegian descent. She brings a seriousness of purpose and undeniable warmth to her stories. She also possessed the magical gift for describing the version of Hawaii that natives experience in their everyday lives without losing the wonder of the place. It’s a neat trick to make something seem familiar and extraordinary at the same time.
The story ‘Thirty Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into a Drinking Game’ is a standout; it’s worth the book’s purchase price for this story alone. Told in the form of a bleakly funny, gut-wrenching list, it’s a portrait of Hawaiian family and tradition set at a grandmother’s funeral.
The story begins with a simple, incisive, dark-as-pitch rule:
‘1. Take a drink each time the haole pastor says hell.
2. Take a drink each time he asks if anybody in the room wants to go there.
3. Take a drink each time he looks at one of your uncles when he says this.’
As the story unfolds, the items on the list grow longer and more involved, increasingly more poignant.
‘18. Take a drink for each male cousin you see cry for the first time.’
The list continues, weaving in family history and food and the awkward, nothing-to-do-but-laugh truths that come up at a funeral.
‘36. Take a shot when one of the women gets so drunk she announces her husband is screwing a Korean. Take another shot when the woman calls the mistress a yobo. Find out the drunk woman is a distant cousin. Her husband is a cousin, too, but from the other side of the family. No one claims the yobo.’
We won’t spoil the ending, but number 39 is well worth the trip. This is a beautiful story, very well told.
Others in the collection address father-daughter relationships, the conflicts of identity between being a ‘true’ Hawaiian and being a local, and just what it means to live in a paradise taken over by tourists. All of the stories address universal themes, but they arise out of things that are specifically Hawaiian.
Kahakauwila is a compassionate tour guide as she explores the beauty and heartache underneath the allure of paradise.
We pause outside the Banyan Hotel, the warm light from the lobby casting our shadows across the water’s edge. The tide sucks at the sand beneath our toes like a vacuum. We look into the hotel, and we can almost understand why here, in Waikīkī, the world appears perfect. The hotel lobbies are brimming with flower arrangements and sticky with the scent of ginger. The island air is warm and heavy as a blanket. And the people are beautiful. Tan and healthy, with muscles carved from koa wood and cheeks the color of strawberry guava. These people — our people — look fresh as cut fruit, ready to be caressed, to be admired. These are people to be trusted. This is not New York or Los Angeles. No, Hawaiʻi is heaven. A dream. — Kristiana Kahakauwila
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