by Kristiana Kahakauwila
To the many tourists that flood its beaches, Hawaii is the perfect island paradise. Residents know better. Yes, Hawaii is beautiful and warm all year, with awesome surfing and a rich Polynesian culture, but there is so much more behind the pretty picture postcards. In a collection of short stories, Kahakauwila explores the strong ties of family that bind Hawaiians to each other, from a young woman who wants to follow in her father into the cockfighting arena to a man who returns from the mainland to be with his dying father and falls for the caretaker hired by his sister to take care of his old man during his dying days.
Kahakauwila is a master of observation, and her carefully curated details – never so much that it overwhelms, but always painting a vivid, lively world for her characters – bring to life a Hawaii that is gritty and authentic. There are flashes of the beauty that attracts outsiders, and the centuries of tradition often weigh heavily on the men and women struggling in the world of the 21st century. But her stories also deal with the world that tourists are never meant to see. Cockfighting? Hotel maids cleaning out bungalows? Sometimes strange and a little exotic, each story shows something new about life on the islands.
Many of the speakers use a sort of pidgin English amongst themselves, and switch to a more proper manner of speaking when dealing with outsiders. It’s an interesting exercise in code-switching, since sometimes it happens in the same conversation. Unused to the pidgin and the Hawaiian slang, I sometimes had to resort to reading the conversations out loud before I understood what was being said.
Throughout the book, characters talk about just what a”real” Hawaiian is. Are you Hawaiian if you’ve got the proper lineage, even if you’ve never lived there? Are you Hawaiian if you’re white but you grew up on one of the islands? I’m curious how this reflects the author’s personal history; her blurb states that she’s a “native Hawaiian, but raised in Southern California” and I wonder what category she would fall under. As an outsider tourist, I suppose I’ll never really know.
4 out of 5 stars
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Peeking into the archives...today in:
2013: History of a Pleasure Seeker by Richard Mason
2012: Vacation: Off to Disneyland!
2011: The Razor’s Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
2010: Fool’s Gold, Vol. 1 by Amy Reeder Hadley
2009: In the Shadow of the Sun King by Golden Keyes Parson