Wednesday 9 June 2021

This is Paradise: Why literary research should begin with a short story.

Our next blog post is by Edward on their essay on This is Paradise

Upon discovering a new genre or mode of fiction there is arguably no better place to start than a captivating and vibrant collection of short stories. As a masters student beginning new areas of research, I find it challenging when I am confronted with the daunting prospect of beginning research on a body of work I am unversed in.

I remember as I commenced my undergraduate studies the excitement I felt when I first read Ernest Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises; I had unveiled before my eyes the sombre, yet enthralling genre of modernism and I could not wait to read more. 

At the time I believed I had unveiled the ‘promised land’ of modernist fiction and that through that one book alone I knew all that I needed to know about the ‘lost generation’ and the pretentious American’s living in post-WW1 Paris. 
How wrong I was. 

Novels can bog you down in lengthy prose and elaborate narratives which tease yet never fully disclose meaning. Do not get me wrong, for me novels are still the pinnacle of prose and they are incredibly valuable to scholars. However, they are not the most valuable resource available when beginning to explore a new literary landscape; the most valuable ‘pulling back of the curtain’ comes in the mode of the short story. 

Upon discovering Hawaiian fiction, I was met with the urge to discover one author, one figure, one comprehensive source through which I could begin to conceive a new, unique genre of writing.

I wish I could say I fought back this urge myself and through my own keen intellect I chose to put on hold my search for a Hawaiian The Sun Also Rises but I would do a great injustice to my essay advisor who suggested I read Kristianna Kahakauwila’s This is Paradise.  

This is Paradise is a collection of short stories which take place in the Hawaiian archipelago, with plots ranging from sexual violence and cock-fighting, to scenic holiday drives and drinking games to be played at funerals. It is a broad and captivating work which can be read in its entirety in one or two sittings.

For what they lack in complex narrative structure and lengthy dynamic plots, Kahakauwila’s stories are rich in fundamental themes and ideas which act as symbols and indicators for motifs to be found elsewhere in the genre; themes such as settler colonialism, indigenous cultural assimilation, and white tourism. 

It is not an attempt to illustrate the entirety of Hawaiian history and it goes without saying that it is not an attempt to define the genre. It is a cultural and historical collage of small moments and actions which, in turn, brings forth exciting avenues of research upon which I will begin to traverse going forwards with my research.

The short story does not explain everything, in fact it explains very little indeed. And yet, whilst that seems counter-intuitive when it comes to conducting research for assignments and projects, it is incredibly valuable in stoking the fires of interest which all researchers have and provides motivation when attempting to understand a new genre or mode of fiction. 

Through Kristianna Kahakauwila’s This is Paradise, I may now begin to conceptualise Hawaiian fiction and travel more attentively into an exciting new area of research. 

Image 1 - Littlegate Publishing

Image 2 - The Crown Publishing Group 

image 3 - Cath Simard  

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