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April 15, 2024

This Is Paradise: Book Review

By Wendy Robards

This Is Paradise, by Kristiana Kahakauwila.

We look at each other, and we feel the heat rising in our faces. Our families are barely affording a life here, the land is being eaten away by developers, the old sugar companies still control water rights. Not only does paradise no longer belong to us, but we have to watch foreigners destroy it. - from This is Paradise -

A tourist to Hawaii believes she has arrived in paradise, only to find a much darker future there. A daughter seeks retribution for her father by pitting her fighting cocks against an adversary, only to discover there is a very high price to pay for revenge. The life of a stray dog reveals the deep fissures between a man and a woman. A daughter ponders the choices her father makes and wonders, if there is another family, does he love me less? A son sits at the bedside of his dying father and wishes to reveal his deepest secret, but will that heal the distance between them, or widen the gap?

These are just some of the characters who people the stories in Kristiana Kahakauwila's beautiful collection, which examines the gap between those who consider themselves "locals" and those who are visitors to a place; the divides within family; the secrets we keep from ourselves and those we love; the search for personal identity; and the definition of home and family. Kahakauwila has a deep understanding of what it means to be of a place, to cling to our pasts while trying to forge our futures, and the feeling of wanting to cling to family while being true to oneself.

My favorite story of the collection was The Old Paniolo Way. Pilipo grew up in Hawaii and revered his father, a man who ran a ranch and spoke pidgin, a man who had earned the respect of those around him. But Pili has left Hawaii, is now living in San Francisco where he feels more accepted for who he is ... and who he is, is a gay man who has not yet come out to his family. When he returns to his family home, he comes to be with his dying father, Harrison, and reconnect with his sister, Maile. He longs to reveal himself, finally, to his family and, somehow, to bridge the gap which has formed between them.

Now, as his father was dying, Pili was haunted by the desire to re-create the intimacy he and Harrison had once shared. Pili wondered what might bring them back to that kind of closeness, and he began to think that if he could just come out to his dad -- and Maile, too -- then perhaps he would regain the relationships he missed. In San Francisco, his coming out -- along with the honesty and self-realization that it required of him -- was cheered and celebrated among his friends, and championed without hesitation. But in Hawai'i, Pili was unsure of his desires and of himself. - from The Old Paniolo Way.

This story about the love between a father and son and the isolation that one feels when he or she cannot be their authentic self, touched me deeply. It was in this story where Kahakauwila's talent fully shone for me. But in all her stories in this collection, Kahakauwila infuses an empathy and authenticity which makes her work ring true and real.

This is Paradise: Stories is a haunting, beautifully crafted collection from a penetrating and talented new voice in fiction. Kahakauwila writes with a finely honed and observant point of view. Her characters jump from the pages, real and fully formed. Readers who are new to short fiction will find this collection accessible and poetic.

Highly recommended.

★ ★ ★ ★ ★

Read more reviews of this book by visiting the TLC Book Tours page.


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.

FTC Disclosure: Many thanks to Hogarth and TLC Book Tours for providing me with this book for review on my blog as part of a book tour.

Catch all of Wendy Robard's reviews in her fabulous blog, "Caribousmom".


Article © Wendy Robards. All rights reserved.
Published on 2013-08-26
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