For many, Hawaii conjures up images of grass skirts and fruity cocktails in a bucolic setting. But in today’s modern world, is this paradise only a myth? The short story collection This Is Paradise, from author Kristiana Kahakauwila, answers that question. Kahakauwila, a native Hawaiian raised in Southern California, explores the reality of life for Hawaiian locals in an impressive debut.
The opening story (which shares the book’s title) follows three groups of women over 24 hours as they narrate their encounters with a soon-to-be-intoxicated tourist. Whether the observations come from matronly maids at a hotel, executive women blowing off steam at Waikiki’s karaoke bar or teen surfers unafraid of the ocean’s dangerous undertow, each voice poignantly overlaps with the others to ring out like a song from a Greek chorus.
In the emotionally charged story “The Old Paniolo Way,” a gay son struggles with the decision to come out to his dying father, while falling head over heels for his father’s caretaker. Familial lines are crossed as the narrator’s sister also battles for the affections of the caretaker, even as she tries to convince her father to leave her (and not her brother) the family farm.
And in the collection’s strongest story, “Wanle,” a young woman avenges her father’s murder by challenging his rival at the local cockfighting ring.
One can almost smell the tropics emanating from each page, thanks to Kahakauwila’s startling and vivid imagery. With prose like a riptide, This Is Paradise is the perfect way to mentally transport you to Hawaii from the comfort of home.