Ashley Marie, March 29, 2012 (view all comments by Ashley Marie)
After a man is found dead near San Piedro Island, in Ship Channel on a fishing boat, a Japanese man is the held accountable for murder. With tensions still high only a few years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, islanders silently point their finger at the one who looks like the enemy. This story follows the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto and the secrets that are uncovered in the lives of the islanders after every bit of evidence is exposed. The novel is broken up by chapters, and each of the chapters describes either a flashback or provides evidence for the trial at hand. The story switches around from the past to the future, and skips generations and families very sporadically from chapter to chapter. For most of the trial scenes, there is a see-saw effect between the defense and prosecuting attorneys. Each provides seemingly damning evidence, but then the other leaves the reader questioning the evidence’s value after the cross examination. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Gulbrandson, uncovers the mystery behind the death of Carl Heine, and exposes the secrets of the people who inhabit San Piedro, an island where nothing is truly as it seems. Snow Falling on Cedars challenges the idea of truth and perspective and is a compelling and beautifully written mystery that keeps readers on the edge of their seat.
The island of San Piedro is a peaceful island that has “a brand of verdant beauty that inclined its residents toward the poetical. Enormous hills, soft green with cedars, rose and fell in every direction” (6). The story takes place only a few years after the attack on Pearl Harbor, during the early month of December. A lot of the flashbacks that occur in the story are staged during the hysteria of the after effect of Pearl Harbor. One such flashback follows two characters that challenge the ways of thinking and strive to develop a relationship during this time of hysteria and hatred for the Japanese. Although knowing their love will never fully mature, characters Ishmael, the son of a local newspaper owner, and Hatsue, the daughter of a newly immigrated Japanese strawberry farmer, allow the passion they share to break through the walls of hatred and fear. They’re relationship is severed quite dramatically shortly after the attack on Pearl Harbor because the Japanese in San Piedro are forced to relocate to Manzanar, an internment camp for Japanese immigrants. It is at this place where many of the characters, including Hatsue and Ishmael, come to the realization that life as they knew it before the war would be over.
The plot for Snow Falling on Cedars involves flashbacks to the past and then snaps back into reality and present time. Most of the flashbacks help with understanding the reactions of characters, and what leads them to the actions they take in present or future. During the trial scenes, flashbacks frequently occur with each witness’s testimony of the previous events. Other flashbacks, like the paralleling Hatsue and Ishmael plot, give dimension to the characters and intricate background information about issues they have had to overcome. Although these parallel plot lines sometimes complicate the plot, they ultimately lead readers to a fuller understanding of why the characters are the way they are.
Snow Falling on Cedars is highly descriptive and has wonderful character development. Each and every character is given a distinct background and quality that makes them realistic and believable. Although, some characters like Nels Gudmundsson, the defense attorney for Kabuo Miyamoto, contrast the physical appearance they are given. Nels is an old man who’s body is failing him faster than ever, he can barely walk, he’s blind in one eye, yet he is the only character who believes Kabuo’s innocence from the start and urges the jurors to “sentence [Kabuo] simply as an American” not by the “shape of [his] eyes” (418). The idea of perception and the idea that everything is not as it seems stems through Nels, because a half-blind man can see through the hypocrisy and the discrimination toward the Japanese after Pearl Harbor, but yet young and attractive Americans like the prosecuting attorney, Alvin Hooks, push farther into the separation of Japanese and Americans. The theme, the truth is farther than appearance, is littered everywhere in Snow Falling on Cedars and often the ones who appear to be the most wise are actually the most arrogant.
Overall, Snow Falling on Cedars touches the hearts of readers. The characters are relative and timeless, as are the themes and can be applied to almost every social issue on discrimination. David Guterson’s style of writing captures the readers from the first few paragraphs and keeps that attention to the very end through beautifully articulated language. With relatable issues such as romance and the fear of the unknown, this book stands above others in its genre. The detailed characterization and development, suspense, and drama add to the book’s creativity and style and make the book one that should be found on anyone’s personal bookshelf.
emmejo, June 28, 2010 (view all comments by emmejo)
When a fisherman turns up dead, possibly murdered, his tiny home island is shocked and horrified. Blame quickly falls on a Japanese American man whose family had feuded with the dead man's family for many years. As the murder trial runs, everyone in the town thinks back on the history of the people of the island and the relationships that occurred, trying to understand why this happened.
I found this book boring, to be honest. The writing was dry, the characters distanced, uninteresting and hard to care about and the whole book had an air of taking itself far too seriously, and trying too hard to be "literature" rather than mere fiction.
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Henry Lacey, January 1, 2010 (view all comments by Henry Lacey)
This novel, which was an early effort by Guterson, is simply excellent. His subtle characterization and sensitive portrayal of race relations will take your breath away.
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yourotherleft, January 17, 2009 (view all comments by yourotherleft)
Snow Falling on Cedars, set on a scenic island off Washington state known for its fishing and its strawberries, begins and ends with the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto who is charged with the murder of fellow islander and fisherman Carl Heine. As the testimony in the trial proceeds, we meet and become intimately acquainted with many members of the community of islanders which is divided between its white citizens and its significant population of Japanese-Americans. Taking place just after World War II, the novel deals with lingering prejudices from wartime when the island's Japanese Americans were "resettled" in California for the duration of the fighting and when even those white islanders who might have once been favorably disposed to their Japanese counterparts struggle to reconcile their post-war relationships with their Japanese neighbors after fighting the Japanese during the war.
Guterson takes on so much with this novel and does it beautifully. Starting at the center with the trial, Guterson works out throught the entire community exploring a forbidden affair, intense prejudice, war wounds of both the physical and emotional sort, hopes, dreams, struggles, and finally healing for a community that is coming to terms with itself. Guterson's narrative flows seamlessly between past and present between trial testimony and deeply personal memories. His prose is vivid and makes it totally possible to see, smell, and even taste the unique surroundings of San Piedro Island. The greatness of this book lies in the community that Guterson creates and his immense talent for perfectly capturing moments we might have some sense of but could never describe so deliciously.
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Dina, August 19, 2006 (view all comments by Dina)
This is a wonderful book--one of my favorites. The prose is lovely and takes you right into the setting of the book. The characters are compelling. This book is a love story and a courtroom mystery. Excellent.
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Vintage Books USA -
by Los Angeles Times,
"Haunting....A whodunit complete with courtroom maneuvering and surprising turns of evidence and at the same time a mystery, something altogether richer and deeper."
by The New York Times Book Review,
"Compelling...heartstopping. Finely wrought, flawlessly written."
by Pico Iyer, Time,
"Luminous...a beautifully assured and full-bodied novel [that] becomes a tender examination of fairness and forgiveness....Guterson has fashioned something haunting and true."
by Kirkus Reviews,
"[A] thoughtful, poetic first novel, a cleverly constructed courtroom drama with detailed, compelling characters....Packed with lovely moments and as compact as haiku — at the same time, a page-turner full of twists."
by B.R. Myers, The Atlantic Monthly,
"Guterson...is content to stretch out a flat, stereotypical description as far as possible....[L]uckily for Guterson many readers...are willing to buy into the scam that anything this dull must be Serious and therefore Fine and therefore Beautiful Writing....Beneath all the verbal rubble in Cedars is a good murder mystery crying out to be heard..."
by Dennis Dodge, Booklist,
"Guterson's first novel is compellingly suspenseful on each of its several levels."
"Guterson uses a rich scenario and cast of characters to explore issues much deeper than the usual. Like the snowfall that is it constant refrain, Snow Falling on Cedars builds up gradually, steadily, surrounding the reader with its magic."
by Seattle Post Intelligencer,
"A powerful meditation on the nature of pride and prejudice and personal responsibility....Casts a deepening spell."
by San Francisco Chronicle,
by Library Journal,
"The novel poetically evokes the beauty of the land while revealing the harshness of war, the nuances of our legal system, and the injustice done to those interned in U.S. relocation camps. Highly recommended."
"Luminous....This is poetry masquerading as prose."
by Random House,
San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries — memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense — one that leaves us shaken and changed.
A phenomenal West Coast bestseller, winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, the PEN/Faulkner Award, and an Abby Award nominee, this enthralling novel is at once a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, the story of a doomed love affair, and a stirring meditation on place, prejudice, and justice.
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