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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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9,846146290 (3.76)304
Title:Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel
Authors:David Guterson
Info:Vintage (1995), Edition: 1st, Paperback, 460 pages
Collections:Your library

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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English (138)  Spanish (3)  Dutch (3)  Danish (1)  German (1)  All languages (146)
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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 |
Set on the fictional San Piedro Island in the northern Puget Sound region of the state of Washington coast in 1954, the plot revolves around a murder case in which Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American, is accused of killing Carl Heine, a respected fisherman in the close-knit community. Carl's body had been pulled from the sea, trapped in his own net. His water-damaged watch had stopped at 1:47. The trial occurs in the midst of deep anti-Japanese sentiments following World War II. Covering the case is the editor of the town's one-man newspaper, Ishmael Chambers, a World War II veteran who lost an arm fighting the Japanese. Torn by a sense of hatred for the Japanese, Chambers struggles with his love for Kabuo's wife, Hatsue, and his conscience, wondering if Kabuo is truly innocent.

Spearheading the prosecution are the town's sheriff, Art Moran, and prosecutor, Alvin Hooks. Leading the defense is the old, experienced Nels Gunderson. An underlying theme throughout the trial is prejudice. Several witnesses, including Etta Heine, Carl's mother, accuse Kabuo of murdering Carl for racial and personal reasons. Etta is stereotypical anti-Japanese; she represents the part of America that persecuted Japanese Americans during the Second World War. This stance is not without irony, as Kabuo Miyamoto (a decorated war veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team), experienced prejudice because of his ancestry, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. As Etta Heine is a German American, by the same standard she could be blamed for Nazi war crimes.

Also involved in the trial are Horace Whaley, the town coroner, and Ole Jurgensen, an elderly man who sells his strawberry field to Carl. The strawberry field is contested in the trial. The land was originally owned by Carl Heine Sr. The Miyamotos lived in a house on the Heines' land and picked strawberries for Mr. Heine. Kabuo and Carl Heine Jr. were close friends as children. Kabuo's father eventually approached Heine Sr. about purchasing 7 acres (28,000 m2) of the farm. Though Etta opposed the sale, Carl Sr. agreed. The payments were to be made over a ten-year period. However, before the last payment was made, war erupted between the US and Japan following Pearl Harbor, and all islanders of Japanese ancestry were forced to relocate to internment camps. In 1944, Carl Sr. died due to a heart attack and Etta Heine sold the land to Ole Jurgensen. When Kabuo returned after the war, he was extremely bitter towards Etta for reneging on the land sale. When Ole Jurgensen suffered a stroke and decided to sell the farm, he was approached by Carl Heine Jr., hours before Kabuo arrived to try to buy the land back. During the trial, the disputed land is presented as a family feud and the motivation behind Carl's murder.

Ishmael's search of the maritime records reveals on the night that Carl Heine died a freighter had passed through the channel where Carl had been fishing at 1:42am, just five minutes before his watch had stopped. Ishmael realises that Carl was likely to have been thrown overboard by the force of the freighter's wake. Despite the bitterness he feels as Hatsue's rejected lover, Ishmael comes forward with the new information. Further evidence is collected in support of the conclusion that Carl had climbed the boat's mast to cut down a lantern, been knocked from the mast by the freighter's wake, hit his head, then fallen into the sea. The charges against Kabuo Miyamoto are dismissed.

  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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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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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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