The six stories in This is Paradise all take place in Hawai’i and give a view of the place outside of the idyllic islands tourists visit.
All stories explore themes such as identity, belonging, and family. And all stories are extremely well-rounded. Something I often miss in short story collections is the feeling that all the stories are truly finished, but that was certainly not the case here. Kahakauwila sets the scene perfectly each time, allows you to look in on her characters for long enough to understand their motivations, background, longings and emotions.
Three stories particularly stood out to me. First, there is the title story, “This is Paradise”, that is narrated by different groups of women on the island and their interactions with one tourist girl. The title is ironic and yet captures the juxtaposition between tourist impressions and everyday life. The story itself definitely touches upon the darker sides of life, and some of the scenes towards the end of the story poignantly ask questions about responsibility and care for others besides your own acknowledged group of friends.
Second, “Wanle” is the story of a woman who will do anything to avenge her father’s death. She hopes to do so through the shared passion of her father and her, cock fighting, but learns some uncomfortable truths in the process.
Finally, the last story of the collection, “The Old Paniolo Way”, is about Pili, a Hawaian man who lives in San Francisco but returns to his father’s ranch now that his father is dying. There, he wants to offer support as best he can to his sister and the nurse attending his father, and hopes to regain the former closeness between his father and himself. Questions of identity expression and family ties are broached as Pili struggles with the question whether he should come out to his family.
And yet. You see, here is the thing about This is Paradise. It is the kind of collection that I was very happy to read comfortably at my own pace. I was never bored or distracted from the stories. And contemplating them afterwards as I am forced to do in order to post about them, I recognise their accomplishment much as I did while reading, perhaps even more. But I also feel forced to admit that I rarely felt much immediate emotional attachment or a compulsion that had me impatient o read on. Sadly, I wonder how memorable this collection turns out to be. I might put this back on the shelves and never stop to think about it again. Or it could be that these stories will linger, somehow, having me acknowledge their impression months later while I feel very little right now. It could go either way, but I fear that it might be the former for me in this case. It is a shame, for at the same time, I feel this collection deserves much better.