This is Paradise
Kristiana Kahakauwila
“Thirty-Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into a Drinking Game”

“Thirty Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into a Drinking Game” is from Kristiana Kahakauwila’s debut collection This is Paradise: Stories (Hogarth).  The collection was chosen as a Barnes & Noble Summer 2013 selection of the Discover Great New Writers program.  She divides her time between Bellingham, WA, and Hawaii.


O, The Oprah Magazine said the collection “navigates an ocean of tension between tourists and islanders in paradisiacal, paradoxical Hawaii. Gritty, haunting, and suspenseful.”


Kahakauwila said of her story: I grew up in Southern California, but my dad is Native Hawaiian, and his side of the family all lives in Hawaii. We visited often throughout my childhood, but not until I moved to Honolulu after earning my M.F.A. did I begin to feel that I belonged to the islands.


I had been living in Honolulu for a year when my paternal grandmother died. After her funeral I wished to capture what it had been like, the crowdedness of all that family, the celebration of who my grandmother had been, and my own feelings of initiation into the life of a contemporary Hawaiian. The night after the funeral I sat up late writing an email to a friend and I described all the smells and tastes of the event.


At the time I was researching missionarism in Hawaii and I was struggling to understand what it means to be native and to be Christian. Can the two co-exist? Does a native person have to reject some part of their ancestral history to belong to the church, or not? A couple days after the funeral I rewrote that email, heavily fictionalizing the events of the day and layering them with the questions I had been asking myself about history, ancestry, religion, and nativity. What emerged was a draft of “Thirty-Nine Rules for Making a Hawaiian Funeral Into a Drinking Game.”


That story loosened something inside of me. I felt I was writing on a precipice – on the edge of understanding, of passion, of my own idea of self. “Thirty-Nine Rules” was the first story I wrote for This is Paradise: Stories, and I knew, in writing this narrative, that I had begun a book where every piece would be written from that same precipice.

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