Kristiana Kahakauwila's This Is Paradise: Stories

Kristiana Kahakauwila's debut short story collection This Is Paradise: Stories (Hogarth, 2013) contains six stories all set in Hawai'i and featuring a multiethnic cast of characters as well as both local and mainland figures.

I think this collection would lend itself well to studies in critical multiculturalism. Kahakauwila's sensibility is very much about looking beyond the narrative of celebratory multiculturalism to understand the dynamics of Native Hawaiian communities and their diasporas within the context of the United States. I'll touch on just a few of the stories in this review....

The opening story, "This Is Paradise," reminded me of Julie Otsuka's latest novel, The Buddha in the Attic, with its collective first person point of view. The "we" of the story traces the perspectives of a few groups of Native Hawaiian women across class divides, occupations, and experiences living on and off the islands. The plot charts these women's encounters over the course of a day with a haole woman from the mainland, who while seemingly friendly and in some ways more sympathetic to the working lives of Native women than other tourists, ultimately still romanticizes the islands and people to her own detriment. Although this tension between haole and Native is at the heart of the story, the exploration of Native women with different class and educational backgrounds is perhaps the most interesting and complex aspect of the story. The women's different jobs, such as maids in tourist hotels, police on the island, or lawyers with degrees from mainland universities, mark their different mobility and economic opportunities. The resultant collective "we" is thus both remarkably refracted as well as unified in seeing the paradise of the island as Native Hawaiian women.

The second story, "Wanle," centers on the title character, a woman whose father named her "Wanle," meaning "It is gone" in Chinese. The story centers on the underground culture of cockfighting, with Wanle's father as a central figure in that culture prior to this death and Wanle's narrative trajectory focused on obtaining some kind of revenge for his untimely death. Interestingly, the story also concerns Wanle's relationship with "the Indian," a man from a South Dakota reservation (from which he fled to escape a certain kind of violence, never quite fully explained in the story) who embodies a different perspective on cockfighting, aggressiveness, and trust in relationships.

The last story, "The Old Paniolo Way," concerns Pili, a gay man returning to the islands and his father's horse farm as his father is on his deathbed. The story considers Pili's closeted life on the islands in contrast to how he lives his sexuality openly in California. The story is thoughtfully not just about the silence of homosexuality, though, but very much about Pili's relationship with his sister Maile, who has remained on the islands and has worked on the farm with their father in the last few years. Into this trio of father, son, and daughter comes the presence of a hospice nurse, Albert, whose care for the father spurs both Pili and Maile to reconsider how they relate to one another and others.

I don't know if we've reviewed any Native Hawaiian writers on this community yet though Pacific Islander writers are often studied alongside or in tension with Asian American writers (especially Asian Hawaiian writers). I've been reading around more standard Asian American texts lately, so I'll be posting more brief reviews of a few of these books in the coming weeks. For more reviews of Hawaiian writing, see stephenhongsohn's omnibus reviews of books from three Hawaiian publishers, Hawaii Calling, Part 1 and Hawaii Calling, Part 2. For a brief review of other Pacific Islander writing (Guamanian), see my review of Chamorro writer Craig Santos Perez's from unincorporated territory.
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what was interesting was that i've seen this book marketed as "asian american lit"... i suppose it goes with that whole API angle, which sometimes still does occur right?

in any case, i need to get this; it sounds really great and could be included in my transnational asia/pacific course
Yah.... The API categorization does seem to lead some people to them do the metonymic thing in naming Pacific Islanders as Asians.