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Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel by David…

Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel (original 1994; edition 1995)

by David Guterson

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Title:Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel
Authors:David Guterson
Info:Vintage (1995), Edition: 1st, Paperback, 460 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:japan, united states, historical fiction

Work details

Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel by David Guterson (1994)

  1. 171
    To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee (EerierIdyllMeme)
    EerierIdyllMeme: Very different novels exploring similar themes
  2. 110
    Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet by Jamie Ford (pdebolt)
    pdebolt: This novel also deals with the internment of Japanese Americans and the heartache endured.
  3. 31
    Monkey Beach by Eden Robinson (browner56)
    browner56: The Pacific Northwest sets the stage for these engrossing and highly atmospheric novels
  4. 10
    Sole Survivor by Derek Hansen (KimarieBee)
    KimarieBee: Internment, but in different circumstances
  5. 10
    The Sky Fisherman: A Novel by Craig Lesley (SqueakyChu)
    SqueakyChu: Both books show a love for the Pacific Northwest in their setting.
  6. 00
    Smilla's Sense of Snow by Peter Høeg (Friederike.Geissler)

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wholly atmospheric ( )
  jkdavies | Jun 14, 2016 |
  MrsDoglvrs | Apr 24, 2016 |
It is 1954 on a small fictional island called San Piedro Island located in the Pacific Northwest, where the characters of the book Snow Falling On Cedars experience forgiveness, fairness, justice, morality, betrayal, and redemption. Snow Falling On Cedars takes on the topics of racial prejudice, forbidden love, loss, and effects of war. While Snow Falling On Cedars is David Guterson’s first novel, but third book, he was able to exceptionally explain the characters and setting in great detail.

The novel started out slow and confusing, but after a hundred pages or so, I was able to get into the flow of Guterson’s style, where he jumps back and forth in time through each character’s flashbacks and memories. The flashbacks give information and detail about the events and characters as the mystery and truth of the trial gets revealed slowly throughout the story. While the trial is being solved, another part of the story is revealed through the characters’ flashbacks. Ishmael Chambers, a local newspaper editor, who is tied into the story because of his relations with Kabuo Miyamoto. He becomes closely involved in the case because of his love affair with Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue. Their relationship was much like a forbidden love story. Ishmael would do anything to prove his love to Hatsue, and as the story progressed, there were many conflicts in their relationship. Later on, Ishmael comes to realize his place in the world and what he should and shouldn’t be doing.

The novel goes over the pre-war, World War II, and post-war times. It includes a combination of mystery, murder, drama, and a dramatic love story. Guterson was able to use flashbacks to show how each character’s perspectives affected the events. The two main stories unfold and eventually merge, much like the famous novel, “How to Kill a Mockingbird”. Throughout the book, I was able to see some of the characters grow, develop and learn to accept the truth. All the characters were unique with their own story to tell. The book was suspenseful and the truth was not completely revealed until the end.

The book was written in detail which could be a good thing, however there were many times where this book was overly detailed. There were times where it felt as if some of the flashbacks were unnecessary. As the author was trying to give the readers great imagery, at times it felt unneeded. For example, the author listed all 42 books that were on one of the character’s bookshelves. I understand that a few books could give hints about the character and their personality, but I didn’t need to know all 42 books to figure that out.

In conclusion, the novel, Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson is a novel that is set back during World War II that represents important lessons of morality, judgement, forgiveness, and more. The suspense of this book will make you want to keep reading and will have you on the edge of your seat. Some parts may be boring, but once the two stories tie together, I can say it’s worth reading. The great detail of the book can have its good and bad points, though the characters show a big development and growth as the story goes on, as well as the setting is always explained in full detail. I wouldn’t say this was the best book I’ve ever read, but I will say it’s a book worth reading. ( )
  Leila-K | Apr 9, 2016 |

On San Piedro Island, located off the coast of mainland Washington in the Pacific Northwest, a Japanese-American fisherman named Kabuo Miyamoto goes on trial for the murder of Carl Heine, a well-liked local fisherman and respected war veteran. The date is December 6, 1954, one day before the thirteenth anniversary of the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor. Kabuo faces the courtroom silently and with a stiff, upright posture, which the white residents of San Piedro in the courtroom interpret as a sign of Kabuo’s cold-blooded remorselessness.

Because San Piedro is a small, isolated island, its residents are extremely careful not to make enemies within their community. Over the years, this caution has cultivated a brooding quiet throughout the island. Carl Heine is an archetypal San Piedro native, silently hoarding his feelings and words as if they were precious nuggets of gold. Carl has returned from World War II with the stony silence of a veteran.

In contrast to Carl, Ishmael Chambers, another war veteran who is about the same age as Carl, makes his living through words. He is the editor of the town newspaper, the San Piedro Review, a position he inherited from his father, Arthur. Yet Ishmael remains silent about one aspect of his personal history, the romantic relationship he once had with a young Japanese-American girl named Hatsue, who is now Kabuo’s wife. Ishmael struggles with his memories of this relationship, unable to understand why the beautiful Hatsue, who had been so close to him, abruptly called off the relationship and has treated him with coldness ever since.

Kabuo and his wife believe that it will be impossible for him to receive a fair trial in the postwar anti-Japanese climate. Nonetheless, Kabuo already regards himself as a murderer in a sense. A veteran of World War II himself—having fought for the American side, not the Japanese—he broods over his memories of the enemy soldiers he killed during the war. Kabuo has settled into a quiet acceptance of that guilt, but he has also nurtured an appreciation of his wife and children as marvelous, undeserved gifts.

During the trial, there is little overt expression of racism against Kabuo as a Japanese-American, but it is clear that racism pervades the proceedings. Beneath San Piedro’s seeming tranquility and stillness smolders a tension between the island’s white residents and its Japanese-American community. During the war, the white residents of San Piedro stood by silently while their Japanese-American neighbors were loaded onto ferries and sent to internment camps. The passive hatred and prejudice common on San Piedro did not originate with the war hysteria, however. Rather, the war merely unleashed and legitimized decades-old prejudices that had previously been suppressed under San Piedro’s ethos of silence and avoidance of confrontation.

While Kabuo’s trial takes place, the novel repeatedly flashes back in time to episodes that took place years before, interspersing these past events between testimonies and statements given during the trial. During the war, Etta Heine, Carl’s rabidly anti-Japanese mother, took advantage of the Miyamoto family’s absence to break an agreement her husband made years earlier. Under this agreement, Etta’s husband, Carl Heine Sr., had agreed to sell seven acres of his land to Kabuo’s father, Zenhichi. The agreement had been informal, since laws at the time forbade Japanese-born residents from purchasing or owning land. Zenhichi made his biannual payments for the land religiously and was just two payments away from full ownership when his family was sent to an internment camp.

The elder Carl died soon after the Miyamotos were sent away. Etta, disgusted with the idea that anyone of Japanese descent would ever own her husband’s land, promptly sold the land to a white farmer, Ole Jurgensen, at a higher price than the Miyamotos had paid. When Kabuo returned from the war, he sought to recover the land he felt his family deserved. However, since Ole Jurgensen now owned the land, Kabuo had no choice but to wait patiently until Ole was ready to sell. When Ole finally advertised his farm for sale after suffering a stroke, Kabuo thought that the moment had arrived and rushed to make an offer for the land as soon as he heard that it was available.

Kabuo found that Carl Heine had beaten him to it; Carl had already made arrangements to purchase Ole’s land. Hearing Kabuo’s pleas, however, Carl agreed to consider selling Kabuo a portion of the land, the small plot that Zenhichi had originally attempted to purchase. Kabuo held out hope that Carl would in fact decide to offer him the land, since he and Carl had been childhood friends. However, Kabuo knew that Carl, though at heart a good man, had struggled with anti-Japanese prejudices ever since the war.

Still undecided about the land sale, Carl went out in his fishing boat on the foggy night of September 15, 1954. His boat ran out of power during the night, leaving him stranded in dense fog in the middle of a shipping channel, a perilous place to be because of the huge freighters that frequently passed through the channel. Fortuitously, Kabuo came upon Carl’s boat and helped him. Grateful for Kabuo’s kindness, Carl overcame his prejudices and agreed to sell the land to Kabuo.

Unfortunately, Carl died later that night in a freak accident. A large freighter passing through the shipping channel created an enormous wake, a wall of waves high enough to jar Carl’s boat violently. Carl, who had been cutting a lantern loose from his mast, was knocked down from the mast and hit his head on the edge of his boat. Knocked unconscious, he fell into the water and drowned.

The authorities began to investigate the case the next day, when Carl’s boat was found adrift off the island. The investigation was under the jurisdiction of Art Moran, the local sheriff. The coroner, Horace Whaley, a World War II veteran himself, remarked to the sheriff that Carl’s head wound resembled wounds he had seen inflicted by Japanese soldiers skilled in the martial art of kendo. Though Art had at first thought that Carl’s death was purely an accident, Horace’s comment led him to investigate more closely. The evidence, though circumstantial, seemed to point directly to Kabuo. Not only was Kabuo an expert in kendo, but upon searching Kabuo’s boat, Art found a fishing gaff with blood on the handle—blood that, when tested, proved to be of the same relatively rare blood type as Carl’s.

There remains no incontrovertible proof of Kabuo’s innocence until Ishmael Chambers stumbles across a logbook from a local lighthouse on the evening of the second day of the trial. The logbook, kept by a radioman’s assistant who is no longer stationed on San Piedro, records that a large freighter got lost in dense fog off the island on the night of September 15, 1954—the same night Carl died. The radioman, attempting to guide the freighter back on course, advised its crew to steer the huge ship directly through the channel where Carl was fishing that night. According to the logbook, the freighter passed through Carl’s area at 1:42 A.M., just five minutes before Carl’s waterlogged watch stopped at 1:47 A.M.—the moment Carl plunged, unconscious, into the water. It is clear to Ishmael that the freighter’s wake, not Kabuo, is responsible for Carl’s death.

The discovery of the report leaves Ishmael tortured with indecision. He knows that as an honest man and especially as a reporter, he is obligated to come forward with any information that bears relevance to the trial. However, Ishmael still struggles with intense bitterness as Hatsue’s jilted lover. Ishmael recognizes his intense desire for revenge against Hatsue for breaking his heart.

Ishmael sits on the report through the trial’s closing statements. The prosecutor, Alvin Hooks, subtly appeals to the jurors’ prejudice in his closing statement, exhorting them to look at Kabuo’s stone-faced expression when deciding his guilt. Kabuo’s attorney, Nels Gudmundsson, directly addresses the matter of prejudice and urges the jury to decide objectively.

The trial ends, and the jury goes into deliberations. All the jurors adamantly insist on Kabuo’s guilt except for one, whose stubbornness prolongs the deliberations and forces them to adjourn for the day. At the last minute, Ishmael reveals the contents of the lighthouse report to Hatsue. The charges against Kabuo are dropped and he is freed from jail, finally reunited with his wife and children. ( )
  bostonwendym | Mar 3, 2016 |
Its setting the fictitious San Piedro Island (one of the San Juan Islands between Victoria, Canada, and Bellingham, Washington), “Snow Falling on Cedars” begins in 1954 with the start of the murder trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American gill-net fisherman accused of killing Carl Heine, another gill-net fisherman, at sea at night in dense fog. The novel goes repeatedly back in time as early as the mid-1930s to present back-stories of its main characters. Readers are given ample cause to identify with them. Ultimately, taking sides during the course of the trial, the reader hopes that justice, not human fear and prejudice, will prevail.

The author, David Guterson, is outstanding in portraying character. He is meticulous in revealing physical habits and appearance and psychological characteristics. He exceeds most writers in his ability to humanize his characters.

This is true even of minor characters. I appreciated greatly such diligence. The county coroner, Horace Whaley, who appears in only one chapter, is a good example.

"Horace was by inclination a private man, nearing fifty now, with a sprawling port-wine stain on the left side of his forehead that he often fingered unconsciously. In appearance he was tidy and meticulous, storklike and slender … and wore his starched trousers high on his narrow waist and his scant hair slicked from right to left with pomade. Horace Whaley’s eyes bulged—his thyroid gland was overactive—and swam, too, behind his spectacles. Something attenuated, a nervous caution, suggested itself in all his movements.

Horace had served as a medical officer for twenty months in the Pacific theater and had suffered in that period from sleep deprivation and from a generalized and perpetual tropical malaise that had rendered him, in his own mind, ineffective, Wounded men in his care had died, they died while in his sleepless daze Horace was responsible for them, In his head these men and their bloody wounds mingled into one recurring dream."

Four characters are especially important in this story.

Ishmael Chambers, owner and editor of the local newspaper, has more than a professional interest in the outcome of the trial. He and the defendant’s wife, Hatsue (Imada) Miyamoto, grew up in close proximity of each other. They were classmates. During the summer they worked near each other picking strawberries. They spent time together looking for sand crabs. Childhood friends, they became more than friends after puberty. Ishmael fell deeply in love with her. Despite the cultural training she had received that forbad having a romantic relationship with any male not Japanese, she returned his affection. Her sense of guilt in deceiving her mother and a growing sense that committing herself to him was wrong precedes the removal of all Japanese-Americans on the island to the Japanese internment camp Manzanar in early 1942. From the camp Hatsue writes Ishmael that their relationship has ended. Ishamel takes the rejection hard. He is wounded at Okinawa; his left arm is amputated. After the war he succeeds his father as owner and editor of the town newspaper. Hatsue has married Kabuo Miyamoto and is the mother of children.

"… the anger about her had finished gradually bleeding out of him and had slowly dried up and blown away. Nothing had replaced it, either. … She slept in the same bed every night with Kabuo Miyamoto. He had taught himself to forget as best he could. The only thing left was a vague sense of waiting for Hatsue—a fantasy—to return to him. How, exactly, this might be achieved he could not begin to imagine, but he could not keep himself from feeling that he was waiting and that these years were only an interim between other years he had passed and would pass again with Hatsue."

Kabuo Miyamoto is the great grandson of a samurai. His father began training him to use the bokken, a wooden sword, before he was ten. He became very proficient in stick-fighting. At Manzanar he builds furniture for the Imada family. He and Hatsue become acquainted. Prior to Kabuo’s enlistment in the army to fight in Italy, they marry. It is against Hatsue’s wishes. She is not able to dissuade him. His stated reason for enlisting is that he must prove himself to be a loyal American. His unstated reason is that he has inherited his great grandfather’s desire to engage in battle.

Before the war, Kabuo’s family worked on Carl Heine’s father’s strawberry acreages. The father, unlike most of the white population on San Piedro Island, is liberal-minded. He hadsa high regard for the Miyamoto family. When Kabuo’s father asks Carl Sr. if he would sell him seven acres of strawberry land, to be paid in installments, the senior Heine agrees. His wife, Etta, a very bigoted woman, opposes. The installments would continue until Kabuo reaches the age of eighteen, when title to the purchased land would be transferred to him. State law forbad people born in Japan to own property. They could not become American citizens. Born in American, however, Kabuo would become eligible to own property upon his eighteenth birthday. Two installments remain to be paid when all the Japanese families on the island are removed to Manzanar. Over his wife’s objections, Carl Sr. agrees to be flexible about the delay of the final payments. During the war he dies. Etta sells all of Carl’s property, including the seven acres. She returns what Kabuo’s father has paid but pockets the property’s equity. After Kabuo returns from war, he is not able to purchase the desired acreage from the new owner. In September 1954, the owner, now ill, gives notice that he wishes to sell his land. Carl Jr., who wants to be a strawberry farmer, not continue to fish, makes an agreement to buy the property hours before Kabuo approaches the owner.

The county sheriff, Art Moran, recalls that Carl had "served as a gunner on the U.S.S. Canton, which went down during the invasion of Okinawa. He’d survived the war—other island boys hadn’t—and come home to a gill-netter’s life. … He weighed two hundred and thirty-five pounds, much of it carried in his chest and shoulders. … He worked alone. He was courteous but not friendly. … Carl Heine was a good man. He was silent, yes, and grave like his mother, but the war had a part in that, Art realized. Carl rarely laughed, but he did not seem, to Art’s way of thinking, unhappy or dissatisfied." When his mother, Etta, complains that Kabuo -- who had been a childhood friend and who had loaned Carl a bamboo fishing pole which Etta had demanded be returned – is staring at her evilly, Carl promises to "keep an eye" on Kabuo. It is common knowledge in the community that Kabuo is angry for having been thwarted owning the seven acre property.

When Carl is found drowned in his gill net, suspicion is focused directly on Kabuo. Art Moran’s investigation adds credence to that suspicion. Kabuo is charged with first degree murder.

At this juncture in the novel my main purpose in continuing to read was to discover whether Kabuo was actually guilty and, guilty or not, whether the town’s prejudice toward its Japanese ancestry neighbors would deliver a guilty verdict. The author skillfully sustained my doubt until the last chapter.

I was impressed with the author’s knowledge of location, gill-net fishing, autopsy of corpses, trial procedures, Japanese culture, every subject that is germane to the story. I was as impressed with the author’s subjective narrative skills as I was his ability to characterize. Here is what he wrote after Hatsue had told Ishmael (prior to she and her family being sent to Manzanar) that their relationship had ended.

"When she finally did leave it was well past dusk, and she walked out of the woods and into the open with the intention of not looking back again. But after ten steps she did so despite herself—it was too hard not to turn around. It was in her to say good-bye forever and tell him she would never see him again, to explain to him that she’d chosen to part because in his arms she felt unwhole. But she didn’t say it, that they had been too young, that they had not seen clearly, that they had allowed the forest and the beach to sweep them up, that all of it had been delusion all along, that she had not been who she was. Instead, unblinking, she looked at him, unable to hurt him in the way that was demanded and in some undefined way still loving what he was, his kindness, his seriousness, the goodness in his heart. He stood there, Ishmael, looking at her desperately, and that was the way she would remember him. Twelve years later she would still see him this way, standing at the edge of the strawberry fields beneath the cover of the silent cedars, a handsome boy with one arm outstretched, beckoning her to come back."

My only criticism of the book is that I did not feel Ishmael was an entirely believable character. Yes, his feelings of love for Hatsue and his pain and anger about losing her seemed authentic. Not to have moved on but, instead, to have lived for twelve years in an emotional vacuum up to the beginning of the trial seemed excessive. In the same vein his behavior during the trial seemed contrived.

This is not a novel that can be read cover to cover easily. Savor the content. Enjoy the depth of characterization. Appreciate the author’s craft. Contemplate the theme: unfairness pervades life. Accident rules “every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.” There is much to appreciate. ( )
  HaroldTitus | Feb 8, 2016 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
David Gutersonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Mijn, Aad van derTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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To my mother and father,
with gratitude.
First words
The accused man, Kabuo Miyamoto, sat proudly upright with a rigid grace, his palms placed softly on the defendant's table - the posture of a man who has detached himself insofar as this is possible at his own trial.
In the middle of the journey of our life I came to myself
within a dark wood where the straight way was lost.
Ah, how hard a thing it is to tell what a wild,
and rough, and stubborn wood this was,
which in my thought renews the fear!
- Dante, The Divine Comedy
Harmony, like a following breeze
at sea, is the exception.
Harvey Oxenhorn, Tuning the Rig
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
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 one man's guilt. For on San Piedro, 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 a land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Peidro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during WWII, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. (0-679-76402-X)
Haiku summary
I've not read the booknamed Snow Falling on CedarsDoubt I ever will

Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 067976402X, Paperback)

This is the kind of book where you can smell and hear and see the fictional world the writer has created, so palpably does the atmosphere come through. Set on an island in the straits north of Puget Sound, in Washington, where everyone is either a fisherman or a berry farmer, the story is nominally about a murder trial. But since it's set in the 1950s, lingering memories of World War II, internment camps and racism helps fuel suspicion of a Japanese-American fisherman, a lifelong resident of the islands. It's a great story, but the primary pleasure of the book is Guterson's renderings of the people and the place.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:22:27 -0400)

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When a newspaper journalist covers the trial of a Japanese American accused of murder, he must come to terms with his own past.

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