Thursday, August 8, 2013

Kristiana Kahakauwila's This Is Paradise

Today the From Left to Write book club is discussing Kristiana Kahakauwila's first book, This is Paradise, a collection of short stories about life on the Hawaiian islands. Kahakauwila is a native islander and she writes of a world that may be unfamiliar to readers who only know the resorts, beaches and national parks of Hawaii. The six honest and melancholy stories tell of cock fighters and office workers, cleaning ladies and ranchers, characters who are deeply invested in their families and their identities as Hawaiians.

In one fascinating story, "The Road to Hana," a man with Minnesotan parents who was born and raised on the islands takes a road trip with his girlfriend, a woman with a huge and close Hawaiian family, whose "cousin can chant back twenty-five generations," but who happened to be born in Las Vegas. Tensions rise between the two lovers over who is "local" and who is not, over what it means to be "of the islands" and how that is different than being from them.

The specific culture we see in these stories makes the title "This is Paradise" both full of truth and full of irony. Yes, the islands are incredibly beautiful, but the lives shown here don't simply contemplate the lyricism. Yes, there is ease and pleasure here, but also brutality, sadness, desire, grief and struggle.

I considered my own version of paradise as I read these stories. When we first moved to our small and quiet town, we were leaving behind the noise and grit of living without green space on a busy street in Chicago. Now we had a front and a back and a side yard! I spent the first few weeks in our new home singing the praises of the easy life of the suburbs.

"Five blocks to the kids' museum! Four blocks to the pancake house, three blocks to the grocery store, two blocks to the library and no drunks peeing on our front door!"

It wasn't exactly the Twelve Days of Christmas, but it felt like it.

Now that we've lived here for ten (lordy, lordy, how time flies!) years, (and now that the Children's Museum moved to Glenview) the beauty and convenience of our little village has shifted to the background of our busy days. I still take a deep grateful breath when I step into the backyard on a dewy morning. And every time we visit our beach, I am blown away by the gorgeous sight of Lake Michigan and her varied moods. But even paradise right in front of your eyes can disappear when you are busy or distracted or stressed. It takes a moment of conscious stillness to become again the tourist in your own backyard, to look anew at the same patch of flowers you tend every day and feel again gladness.

You can read more responses to Kristiana Kahakauwila's book here. I received a copy of the book with no obligation.


Lisa Hanneman said...

We felt the same way when we first moved! And now it's just normal. But every now and then we realize how delightful the area really is.

I think of all of the neighborhoods and places I've never seen in the Chicago area all of the time. Admittedly, most often when I'm watching WTTW... It always makes me want to take a day and explore.

Nae said...

How fascinating! I'm not sure I would know what to do without the sights/sounds of city life :)