Hawaii is paradise. It’s the ideal place – relaxation, sun, waves, warm water, tropical plants, and more. That’s the general vision of it, but it’s only the tourist’s view. This Is Paradise by Kristiana Kahakauwila tells the native Hawaiian perspective in six short but incredibly powerful stories.
The stories are each incredibly different. The book opens by following a tourist by different locals who see her at different times then regret their reaction – or lack thereof – to her. Whether it is the teenage surfers, the housekeepers at the hotel, or the professional women who went to college and returned home, each has a different reaction to the tourist as they see and continue to spot her. It is a fascinating view of three very different generations and types of lives in Hawaii.
One of my favorite stories is “The Old Paniolo Way” that shares a brother and sister coping with their father’s last days. The sister has stayed on the island and dedicated herself to caring for her father as his dementia increased while simultaneously training horses with and for her father. The son left for California and founded a successful marketing firm, only coming back at the very end time. He feels uncomfortable in the home, not having a role he fears. The caregiver provides another area of contention, as the siblings try to figure out their relationship amongst all the characters.
Other than the beautifully poignant stories, there is also “Thirty Nine Rules for Making a Funeral into a Drinking Game” that was highly entertaining, a long funny blog post almost. While sharing the humor, it at the same time shows the aspects of Hawaiian culture that set the narrator apart.
I highly recommend this book. It was a side of island life that I hadn’t contemplated previously, particularly the parts that highlight how tourism is pricing out the native Hawaiians who can no longer live there, creating a diaspora that is somewhat explored in one story where the fiancee’s family is all in Las Vegas now. The fact that I was reading it while visiting various Caribbean islands made it hit home even more for me. Couple that with the beautiful writing and strong characters in each very diverse story, and this is a book that I will not only pick up to read again but lend happily to friends.
Written by Michelle who will never look at Hawaii the same again – or any other area monopolized by tourism. See how very traditional her life is in comparison as she shares it on her blog Honest & Truly! or follow along with her on Twitter where she is also @HonestAndTruly.