Kahakauwila, Kristiana. This is Paradise: Stories. London: Hogarth, 2013.
There are only six stories in This is Paradise. The good news is that I wanted more. Kahakauwila does a great job pulling the Hawaiian culture to the surface of her character’s everyday life. We all have family issues, we all have dramas in our lives but on the islands of Hawaii all this commonality gets a twist. Life moves a little differently in paradise and the lesson to be learned, if I can be didactic for a minute, is that paradise can be painful.
Kahakuawila’s first story starts out disjointed and a little confusing. A lot happens in the title story. Told from the first person perspective it is all over the place. First we are surfers, then chambermaids, next successful career women, and then back to surfers at a bar and on the ocean. The first story This is Paradise reveals an attitude, a prejudice and demolishes a stereotype. It is the only story without a tightly wound plot other than to point out the perceptions of tourism. There is a real sense of “us against them” attitude. Having said all that, as a result the first person stories feel more connected to the Hawaiian culture.
However, “Wanle” is my favorite. In it Wanle is bound by blood to honor her cockfighting father. The need for revenge is as strong as her sense of family and even her sense of self. The conflict is her boyfriend, the “Indian.” He doesn’t like her fighting roosters. He doesn’t like the violence, doesn’t understand the need for revenge. Wanle must go behind his back to continue her obsession and the consequences are devastating.
Westphal, Robert. Tattoo Adventures of Robbie Big Balls (Hand Jobs, Blow Jobs, and Cigarettes). 48HrBooks, 2012.
DISCLAIMER: This book review is not for the Book Lust Challenge nor is it an Early Review for LibraryThing. I picked up Tattoo Adventures of Robbie Big Balls by Robert Westphal from a tattoo shop on Maui. Even though Kisa did get a tattoo from Westphal himself I did not receive compensation or a discount on my ink as a result of this review. A DVD comes with the book so I will include that in the review. Example of Westphal’s talent:
Second disclaimer: I should have titled this blog “Shame on Me.” Shame on me for still not knowing you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover. You just can’t. Here’s the deal: I am always leery of self indulgent crap and to look at the cover of Tattoo Adventures you would think that’s what we’re dealing with. The outside of the book yields no proper publisher information whatsoever. Westphal’s name is nowhere to be found. It looks sort of snarky. More often than not all-about-me crap leads to larger piles of shit because the self professed writer/author thinks he’s gotten somewhere literary because the first dump he took was successful. In reality said crapper is an intelligent fuck who can articulate his thoughts on paper and group words together to form coherent sentences. I’ll be honest. My disdain for such excrement exists because I read such a waste of brain space last January and I haven’t recovered. Obviously. I fully expected Westphal’s book to be nothing more than a series of exaggerated sexual conquests only made possible by the sheer luck he is a tattoo artist. I predicted one completely unbelievable fuck story after another without an intelligent sentence in between. I was wrong. Completely and utterly wrong. Never, ever judge a book by its cover and shame on me for trying.
Now that I have that out of my system. I liked, no, loved Tattoo Adventures of Robbie Big Balls. It was the break from boring I was looking for. Westphal begins Tattoo Adventures by describing the five different types of customers he potentially could see while tattooing. If you are a customer of Maui Atomic Tattooing and if you are anything like me you will spend an inordinate amount of time trying to decide which type of customer Westphal has you pegged for. The rest of Tattoo Adventures is a series of seriously funny short stories delivering exactly what Westphal promised on his cover – his adventures in the world of tattooing and beyond. Think of Robert Westphal as that bartender-ish, incredibly patient therapist doling out life philosophies while dispensing pain punctuated with doses of hilarity. For example, the chapter called “The Tattoo and Its Meaning.” What would you do if you thought your new tattoo meant something completely different than the reality? Or, “Fucking Cops and Donuts.” If you were arrested for child molestation who would believe you if you professed your innocence? Trust me. It’s funny.
My advice? Forgive the quirky margins, ignore the less than professional cover, and disregard the lack on continuity. Take a huge bite of Tattoo Adventures of Robbie Big Balls and swallow it down. Gorge on Westphal’s stories with a strong appetite, a sense of humor, and an appetite for all things crazy. Life is too short not to. Chew with your mouth wide open and don’t be offended by the cohesiveness that isn’t there or the small typos that are. Have a bellyache laugh at the outrageous situations he has gotten himself into without even trying. It’s all in the interest of having a good time. As he says (p 7), “Let the weight of expectation go and enjoying the time you’re given.” So, the wording is a little clumsy but don’t tell me you don’t know what he means.
Author Fact: When I asked Westphal for an author fact he said, “I believe this life is all about having fun. Nothing in life is more important. Happy heart happy life.” Case in point, meet the author:
Book Trivia: With the purchase of Tattoo Adventures of Robbie Big Balls comes a DVD, a companion to the book, if you will.
DVD review: I can only describe this DVD as schizophrenic and fucked up funny. Most of the time you will be laughing your ass off at the seriously silly shit people do (off roading in a golf cart was my favorite. As someone who grew up with more golf carts than not for transportation I can relate!), but other times you will cringe with fascination (I never knew you could tattoo that part of the body – ouch!), or be awestruck by the displays of beautiful tattoo artwork (Yvette’s was my favorite). There are some seriously talented mofos in this video. The music is all over the place but it matches the style of the visuals. Warning: adult…very adult. Not for the sissy prissy tightwads of the world.
June 2012 is…not late! For once! I have to rejoice in simply being on time for the first time in oh, I don’t know how long and I’m too lazy to look. June. What about June? June is a retirement luncheon with some people I barely know. June is a graduation party for someone I love more than a sister (and only she will really get that statement and not misinterpret it as some lesbo love declaration). June is another charity walk – a no-pressure walk of sorts. No fund raising, no training (3.1 miles, a walk in the park – or around a business park as the case may be). June is a few birthdays, but no parties. June is the opening of the pool and June is the beginning of our Hawaiian vacation (lest I forget). We’ve already nixed horseback riding due to age and weight (over 65, under 10 and under 235lbs). That wipes out all but two of us. Anyway, more on that later.
June is also National River Cleanup month, the best time to visit Norway and the month to celebrate fathers. And that is the perfect segue to books:
- Kristin Lavansdatter by Sigrid Undset ~ in honor of Norway. This is actually in three parts (totaling over 1,000 pages) so I’m going to parse it out: The Wreath in June, The Mistress of Husaby (The Wife) in July and The Cross in August.
- A River Runs Through It and Other Stories by Norman Maclean ~in honor of river cleanup month.
For Hawaii, two books I can read and leave behind**:
- Damage by Josephine Hart ~ in honor of Father’s Day
- Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold (a reread) ~ in honor of Father’s Day as well
I have been notified that I have “won” two Early Review books from LibraryThing (such an honor). I have been having some problems with delivery but if they arrive they are:
- How Should a Person Be: a Novel From Life by Sheila Heti ~ this has been described as “seriously strange” by a respected author on Heti’s website. I’m intrigued!
- Waterlogged by Tim Noakes ~ this is something I cannot wait to read. I have been told I need to drink more water and while I don’t consider myself an athlete (this book focuses on them) I am curious about “the facts of hydration.”
** I should add that I plan to load the iPad with ebooks in case I finish the Father’s Day books sooner than expected. I really want to read on the beach one or two days and of course I’ll need to read on all those flights!!
Liliuokalani. Hawaii’s Story: By Hawaii’s Queen. Rutland: Charles E. Tuttle Company, Inc., 1964.
If you read the Tuttle (1964) edition of Hawaii’s Story you are treated to many black and white photographs. Two in particular really stand out to me – the very first ones. One of a woman and on the opposite page one of a man, both in royal garb. Your eyes are instantly drawn to the one of the woman, Liliuokalani. She is striking, posed in an amazing dress and sash. I couldn’t get over how tiny her waist looked!
But, about the book – I have to start off by saying Liliuokalani’s story opened my eyes to a completely different culture. For starters, I thought it strange that immediately after birth Liliuokalani would be adopted by another chief and that adoption was political as well as strategic, “…alliance by adoption cemented the ties of friendship between the chiefs…” (p 4). Go figure. It was eye opening to realize each island had its own chief which allowed for multiple adoptions.
Liliuokalani’s story is not without its soap opera moments either. Her brother was to be married until the bride decided she wanted to marry a cousin…until the cousin lays eyes on Liliuokalani…In all actuality Lilioukalani’s story is political to the bone. It is a detailed account of the decline of a kingdom that had existed for hundreds of years. Lilioukalani uses her ability to write as a vehicle for pleading with President Cleveland to preserve the monarchy. You can hear Lilioukalani’s pride, defiance, and even anger as she carefully tells the story of her people.
An example that some things never change: “As she felt that no one should step between her and her child, naturally I, as her son’s wife, was considered an intruder, and I was forced to realize this from the beginning” (p 23).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii: memoirs” (p 94).
Bird, Isabella. Six Months in Hawaii. London: KPI, 1986.
This book has several different titles. The one I was supposed to read is called Six Months in the Sandwich Islands: Among Hawaii’s Palm Groves, Coral Reefs and Volcanoes. I couldn’t find that edition so I had to settle on the one simply called Six Months in Hawaii. They appear to be one in the same. There’s another called Hawaiian Archipelago. I couldn’t find that one either. Granted, I didn’t look that hard either.
The thing I love about Isabella Bird’s writing is that she is humorous as well as descriptively thorough in her observations. She has a certain playfulness to her otherwise didactic travelogue. The thing I love about Isabella Bird the person is that she is adventurous to the core. To read about her crossing a swollen river like it was a walk in the park is astounding. Her horse nearly drowns but she keeps her cool. According to the introduction to Six Months in Hawaii by Pat Barr Isabella Bird was 41 years old when she first visited the islands of Hawaii. Around my age. Traveling by herself at a time when women were not supposed to be unaccompanied at any age. Fearless.
Examples of her humor: “Miss Karpe, my travelling companion, and two agreeable ladies, were already in their berths very sick, but I did not get into mine because a cockroach, looking as large as a mouse, occupied the pillow, and a companion not much smaller was roaming over the quilt without any definite purpose” (p 45), and “…my beast stopped without consulting my wishes, only a desperate grasp of mane and tethering rope saved me from going over his head” (p 70).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust in the chapter called “Lady Travelers” (p 142). Also from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii: memoirs” (p 94).
Hongo, Garrett. Volcano: a Memoir of Hawaii. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1995.
I didn’t know what to expect when I first picked up Volcano. For starters I thought it would be about a volcano. You know, the thing that spouts out molten hot lava; the thing that ultimately created the islands of Hawaii? I had no idea there is a tiny town called Volcano just below the summit of Kilauea.
Like West of Then by Tara Bray Smith, Volcano is about the author’s search for something. Interestingly enough, both authors suffer from abandonment issues and both return to Hawaii for resolution. While Smith’s search is more tangible (she is looking for her actual mother), Hongo’s is more spiritual. He has ghosts in the form of memories he must confront in the mists of Hilo. Like Smith’s story, Hongo’s is meandering and seemingly without plot or purpose. However, one of the magical elements to Hongo’s book is it is obvious he is a poet. His writing is lyrical and fairly dances off the page. He doesn’t have to have character, drama or even plot for his writing to be beautiful and entertaining.
Lines that were poetic enough to move me: “I walked, vaguely supplicant, through the aisles and from shelf to shelf, weighing memory against need…” (p 46), and “I wanted an encounter, an embrace or a showdown with the past” (p 83).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii: memoirs” (p 94).
Smith, Tara Bray. West of Then: a Mother, a Daughter, and a Journey Past Paradise. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2004.
Tara Bray Smith’s story is haunting. Her childhood and subsequent adult relationship with her mother is tragic. What unfolds before you is a young woman’s story about an almost always drug-addicted and sometimes homeless mother who was constantly abandoning her children. Karen had four children with four different men. Luckily for her second oldest, Tara grew up with some sort of stability with her pot-smoking father and his second wife, Debbie. Tara spends most of the book looking and finding and looking again for her mother. What is especially hard to take is that after you have gotten through the 319 pages you realize nothing has really changed. I am not ruining the end of the story by saying nothing gets resolved. There is no ending. Interspersed are stories of Hawaii, past and present, cultural and historical. It’s this writing that makes the entire book come alive.
As an aside – I don’t know if this was intentional or not but Bray does a good job of making her mother out to be an absolute whore and not in the literal sense but in the derogatory sense. She subtly names no less than 14 different men Karen was having some sort of revolving door romantic relationship with throughout the book. Neil, Ron, Owen, Kirk, Eric, Stan, Terry, Ray…and so on. I found it distracting.
The drawbacks to reading a book with no set chronological order or apparent plot is it is really easy to lose your place. I don’t use bookmarks because usually, I can remember what’s going on in the story enough to pick up where I left off. With the chronology as jumbled as it was I found the search for her mother disorientating. Maybe that was the point.
Lines I liked: “He has his studies; I have my missing mother” (p 117) and “The desire for something sweet makes you stupid” (p 243).
BookLust Twist: From Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Hawaii: memoirs” (p 94).
Hawaii. Hawaii. Hawaii. This is going to sound sick but I am trying to get psyched for an upcoming trip to the islands. Not The Island that I know and love. The Sandwich Islands. Hawaii. Or, more specifically Oahu and Maui. My first time to either. Here are the books that are helping me learn about Hawaiian culture and history:
- Hawaii’s Story by Hawaii’s Queen , Lilioukalani
- West of Then by Tara Bray Smith
- Six Months in the Sandwich Islands by Isabella Bird
- Volcano by Garrett Hongo
- Kon-Tiki by Thor Heyerdahl (don’t you just love his name?)
In addition to that (completely unplanned) list I am trying to stick to the reading schedule. That would include
- Little Women by Louisa May Alcott in honor of May being Eeyore’s birth month (in other words, something sad)
- The Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan in honor of May being Asian American Heritage month,
- and last but not least, Charlotte Gray by Sebastian Faulks in honor of May being sex month.
It’s a bit of reading but I think West of Then and Kon-Tiki are going to be really quick reads. Volcano might also be quick…not sure yet.
Oh! Two last books! For the Early Review Program (LibraryThing) – I almost forgot! I have the United States Coast Guard and National Guard by Thomas Ostrom and Letters to Kurt by Eric Erlandson. Both arrived this month. The Coast Guard book is a January book and I think Letters is a February book. So, a little late, but I’ll get to them! Letters to Kurt I’m sure I’ll read in a weekend or less. Hello coffee in bed!
What else to tell you? In less than two weeks I will be walking 60 miles for Just ‘Cause. In less than four weeks I will be saying goodbye to my cousin. What can I say? I can’t wait for June.