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CliffsNotes on Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars (2000)

by Richard P. Wasowski

Series: CliffsNotes

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There are some very good points about this guide, and one point that made me want to tear it in half; I will try to describe it so that the reader can make their own decision.

I think that Snow Falling on Cedars was a so-so book. I found it uninvolving, and I cannot see why one would bother reading it when there are so many excellent non-fiction works on the themes. Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston and James Houston wrote a classic book on the internment called Farewell to Manzanar. Mary Matsuda Gruene wrote another book: Looking Like the Enemy, and she has a bibliography listing many other books about the Japanese-American experience. Matsuda, incidentally, came from a family of strawberry farmers living on an island in the Puget Sound. People interested in the lives of fisherfolk can read The Hungry Ocean, Beautiful Swimmers, The Lives of Men, the Perfect Storm, etc.

Having warned of my basic lack of enthusiasm, the majority of the Cliff Notes is a competent and useful guide. One of the best parts of the guide is that Wasowski has provided lists explaining a variety of terms, including boating, fishing, contemporary slang, Japanese words, etc. I hope that the authors of some other guides will take a lesson.

I think that there are two missing themes. One is the position of women in the family. Some people will not find it odd that Carl and Kabuo feel little need to consult their wives when making decisions that affect their entire family, but some people today will find strange; it was much more common during the period when this is set than it is today. Guterson cannot really address that directly, but I think it would help if it were in this guide. The other issue, which neither the guide nor Guterson seem to recognize is that Etta does the same thing to her son, Carl, that she does to Kabuo: she deprives him of the opportunity to make his living on land his family owned. If Kabuo feels strongly about land that his family owned for seven years, how might Carl feel about land that has been in the family for several generations?

On the minus side is a vehement objection which I am certain many literary students will not understand. Wasowski commments the "Some question Guterson's style ... or else they think he just didn't succeed in what he attempted to do." He responds to the criticism: "Most readers tend to recognize that prejudice on either side of a relationship can lead to misunderstandings and that someone living with one foot in two different cultures is not fully part of either."

Since I often receive similar comments when I criticize "serious fiction", it is presumably necessary to point out that his response is a non sequitor, from the Latin "it does not follow", meaning "a statement (as a response) that does not follow logically from or is not clearly related to anything previously said." (Webster's Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged. Merriam-Webster, 2002, online, Oct 31, 2006).

Whether or not one likes Guterson's style does not necessarily have anything to do with whether or not one understands the pressures of conflicting loyalties. One could understand perfectly and still not like Guterson's book. Themes are different from writing techniques. Perhaps Wasowski means to say that Guterson's development of the theme is so good, so novel, and so important as to make wading through his verbosity worthwhile. I wouldn't agree, but that at least would make sense.

A useful companion to the book, if not a great example of clarity in writing. ( )
  juglicerr | Jun 17, 2007 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0764585673, Paperback)

The original CliffsNotes study guides offer expert commentary on major themes, plots, characters, literary devices, and historical background. The latest generation of titles in this series also feature glossaries and visual elements that complement the classic, familiar format.

In CliffsNotes on Snow Falling on Cedars, you explore David Guterson's bestselling novel, in which a murder trial forces the residents of an island in the Pacific Northwest to revisit the time in history when both the Japanese and Japanese-Americans were discriminated against. The novel explores the effects of war, the difficulties of race, and the mystery of human motivation in a story that's a combination murder mystery, courtroom drama, and tragic love story.

Summaries and commentaries guide you through the novel, and critical essays help you understand the author's narrative techniques, use of details, and symbolism. Other features that help you study includeA section on the life and background of David GutersonA section on the historical background of the novelA character listAdditional critical essays on the role of gender and use of duality in the novelReview questions and essay topics

Classic literature or modern modern-day treasure—you'll understand it all with expert information and insight from CliffsNotes study guides.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:38 -0400)

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