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Lunch » Tags » Books » Reviews » Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel » User review

Culture clash/courtroom drama

  • Dec 14, 2012
Snow falling read like a culture clash wrapped around a courtroom drama, but both qualifiers seem too gentle.  The cultures at war, literally during the war years after Pearl Harbor, are the rockbound Pacific Northwest fishing and farming culture, and the tradition bound Japanese-American service (and servile?) cultures on an island off the Washington coast in the middle of the 20th century.  The courtroom drama is between the local law enforcement (and its broader Anglo establishment) and the Japanese fisherman and hopeful small-farm buyer who is accused of murdering an old-family fellow fisherman in a dispute over land.  The two men had much in common, except the murdered man's white skin and German heritage.

Guterson wraps the plot around the trial, taking place in dead of winter during a once-in-a-decade snowstorm that knocks out power and strands off-island jurors in a cold hotel.  The background of victim Carl Heine and accused Kabuo Miyamoto is told in flashbacks driven by court testimony or characters' reminiscences.  And sometimes the drive is a slow one, grinding to a halt the momentum of the tension of the trial and face-to-face interaction of family (on a small island, even enemies are close neighbors), friends, and busybody townspeople.  The book isn't dull, by any stretch, just be warned it can move at a leisurely pace.

But the real tension is driven by culture, particularly as we learn the back story of newsman Ishmael Chambers and Hasue Miyamoto.  And the tension is sharpened by the war, when the island's Japanese-American population was shipped to mainland concentration camps, and the aftermath of the war, when men from both cultures return as wounded war veterans.  Some wear their wounds (and their culture-the irony of islanders of German heritage calling those of Japanese heritage by nature suspect citizens is not lost here) on their sleeve, others bury them behind protective barriers.

While nominally a mystery, this is really a novel about people at war.  And as the outcome often does in war, the outcome here will turn on what the characters do at the moment of decision.  The ending may not surprise, but neither will it disappoint.

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review by . November 29, 2008
It seems that Guterson has several types of readers for this novel. There are those who come to it for the sake of the place. (And what a beautiful place it is.) There are those who come to it for the sake of the period in history. (And what a wrenching, fear-driven time it was....) And there are those, like me, who come for the weaving of the tale. The story is masterfully told, and I absolutely loved rain as a motif in this novel. It's a book that made me question whether I could ever be a novelist; …
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Todd Stockslager ()
Ranked #36
I love reading and writing about what I have read, making the connections and marking the comparisons and contrasts. God has given man the amazing power to invent language and the means to record it which … more
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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.
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ISBN-10: 067976402X
ISBN-13: 978-0679764021
Author: David Guterson
Publisher: Vintage

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