In Washington State, the trial of Kabuo Miyomoto, a Japanese-American fisherman accused of murdering another fisherman, Carl Heine. The prosecution charges the murder was committed as revenge for the Heine family taking Miyomoto's land at the outbreak of World War II and the novel traces the different reaction of the white and yellow communities. By the author of The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind.
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.
Additionally the novel is very bleak. The setting is austere and bleak, the characters are bleak in their emotions and outlook, and even the plot is bleak. It is not that I need or want books to be pervasively happy, but I found the dismal miasma of hopelessness to somewhat wearying.
Guterson presents many sides to his story - not an easy feat to accomplish when tackling touchy topics like the internment of Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbour and depicting in his characters some of the prevalent feelings and beliefs of the post war 1950's. At times the story became rather unwieldy but the beauty with which Guterson presents the Pacific Northwest through his depiction of the fictional San Piedro Island of the northern Puget Sound region of Washington State kept me reading. I will admit that with the court room drama, I started to see some interesting parallels with the small town court scenes and the TV show Matlock, which made it pleasantly interesting but not in a page turning, hang on every word manner.
I purchased this one back in 2009 because I was interested to read Guterson's portrayal of the Japanese-American internment, as Canada had also interned Japanese-Canadians in British Columbia at the same time and for the same reasons the Americans did during World War II.
It is not a pretty picture and part of the reason this book has been a 'banned book from time to time.... the darker sides of history can be hard to face for some folks.
Overall, a story that I believe presents a very well rounded approach to the topic with a lot going for it but I can see where the meandering nature of the story can be frustrating for some readers to sit down and enjoy.
Perhaps if this book had been three hundred pages or less, it would have been acceptable. Stretched as they are, however, over four hundred densely-packed pages, the fruits of Guterson's labour are soured by a feeling of self-indulgence, and eventually wither from remaining too long on the vine. For four hundred pages, Guterson takes his reader for granted, and the result is a wholly unsatisfying epic; vivid enough, but easily forgettable.
As the reader tires, so do many of Guterson's ideas and techniques. His exploration of racism covers little ground not already trod by Harper Lee in To Kill a Mockingbird. Even the character of Judge Lew Fielding seems to have been cloned (with a measure of unconvincing tweaking) from Lee's judge, John Taylor. The courtroom theatrics, while they may be the most readable parts of the book, are annoyingly incongruous; they would feel much more at home in a John Grisham novel than in Guterson's scrupulously realistic world. The final chapter, while preserving that realism, manages to be both insubstantial and anticlimactic, foregoing any real resolution in favour of a vaguely uplifting moral.
Who has time for Snow Falling on Cedars? Certainly not me, and probably not you, either. If there truly is a moral to this story, it is this: nothing ruins good writing like too much good writing.
The cover indicates that this novel won the Pen/Faulkner Award, which I am unfamiliar with. I can believe that it is an award winner, because it was an engrossing story, well told.
It is set on San Piedro Island, which purports to be one of San Juan Islands between Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and the mainland State of Washington. This alone would predispose me to like the book, since it is a region I love deeply, though I have little experience of the islands themselves, having spent more time on the Olympic Peninsula.
The plot is a modern-day murder trial, with the apparent motive rooted in the past. The trial acts as a frame to move between past and present and among viewpoints. Each chapter opens in the courtroom, and as each witness begins his or her testimony, the story switches to a third-person narrative recounting that person's thoughts, feelings, and experiences, starting with the sheriff finding the body. Some chapters take a similar approach with key bystanders to the trial, such as the reporter Ishmael Chambers--moving from his actions as reporter to his background growing up on the island and then going to war. And so the story moves from sheriff to reporter, coroner, victim's widow, defendant's widow, victim's mother, etc.
As each piece of evidence and testimony ineluctably leads to another personal narrative, the tension builds, and past and present weave together, showing the tensions and bonds of a small, rural community that relies on farming and fishing for subsistence. Composed of German and Scandinavian and more recently Japanese immigrants, World War II and the accompanying internment of Japanese-Americans, tears the community and families apart, interrupting and disrupting lives, with consequences that ripple out to the present day. Throw in a love triangle, some bigotry, and we have the crisis of the past that leads to the climax of the present.
The prose is eloquent, the characterizations very believable. David Guterson does his best to maintain the suspense for as long as possible--did Kabuo Miyamoto really kill Carl Heine? All of the evidence and testimony seems pretty damning. Whether he did or not, two families are economically destroyed in the process, though this consequence of the sudden death and subsequent trial is outside the scope of the story. Because of this, it is a tender tragedy. It is well worth reading, though not a book I plan to keep (as mentioned earlier). It would doubtless make a fine movie, though many of the nuances would be lost.
Snow Falling on Cedars was a beautifully written novel by David Guterson. I found it to be a deeply satisfying read because I liked the way the author described all the characters in emotionally vivid details; they were so real it was almost as though the characters jumped out of the book and lived in real life. Furthermore, I liked how Guterson incorporated rich American history and modern day trial scenarios into a fictional setting. On the other hand however, the beginning was a slow read, but towards the end speeds up. Some of the things that were less appealing to me were the long drawn out courtroom dialogues, and at times, the difficult to understand and confusing discussions about buying and selling property. The book appealed to me because it was different and unique, it was a heart-stopping and suspenseful book that left me dying to read more. At the same time, it also was enjoyable to me because I felt like I could relate to many things from the novel to how things are in today's society. I would highly recommend this book to anyone who is looking for an over-all interesting yet hauntingly beautiful mystery book. -O.S.
That said, Good god, this book is long. The book centers on a murder trial, but it also uses flashbacks to give background on the story and the various characters. It’s a lot like the first season of Lost, actually, with flashbacks comprising the bulk of the story. The problem, also like Lost, is that you’re really most interested in what’s happening now as opposed to what’s happened already.
A good example is near the ending. I won’t spoil anything here, but all you need to know is that it is on the eve of the verdict, the event the whole book is hinging on. You’ve read 400 pages leading up to this point, and the author makes one final digression to talk about another character in such exhaustive detail as to list the books on his bookshelf. Seriously. We’ve already heard quite a bit about this character, and I understand the utility of objects as clues to personality, but I do not need a list of every book the dude read. It’s kind of lazy in a weird way because it’s lazy while at the same time being a whole lot of work.
To continue the comparison to Lost, it also felt like a whole lot happened at the beginning and the end, but not so much in the middle.
Anyway, that’s just one example of what happens in the book pretty often. You have a good plot and interesting characters, but they get a little bogged down in the details. The author was trying to paint a very vivid picture using lots and lots of small details, but in cataloguing the details you really miss out on appreciating the painting as a whole. The story was very decompressed, but it was the least important details which were decompressed.
Finally, there is some good writing in here, but if you don’t know shit about sailing or the environment of the Pacific Northwest, you are SOL. The names of plants come up a lot more than their description, and if the smell of cedar isn’t the sort of detail you can call up, don’t expect a lot of help.
Boring, that’s what the book I read was! David Guterson, the author of Snow Falling on Cedars, has also written, The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind, which is a collection of short stories, and Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense. Snow Falling on Cedars was set on the Island of San Piedro, Northwest of Washington, in 1954. This was a book about a murder and murder trial. The defendant, Kabuo Miyamoto, was accused for murdering a young local fisherman. This fisherman was found drowned in a bay off the coast of the island one morning after he had been out fishing all night. Throughout the course of the trial, startling secret memories come to the surface. One of these memories is a sexual relationship between a white boy and a Japanese girl, while they were kids during World War II. This girl eventually grows up to marry Kabuo Miyamoto. Kabuo was also a fisherman, and was out fishing the night Carl died, or was perhaps killed.
I thought this book was boring because it took almost five minutes to describe the setting and the tree where the white boy and Japanese girl met secretly and where their sexual relations happened. Although I found this book really long, hard to get into, and uninteresting it did have a couple interesting spots. The spots that I found interesting were the description of the boy’s and Japanese girl’s relationship and the description of Pearl Harbor being bombed. To me, history is interesting so I found that the description of the Pearl Harbor bombing appealing to me. Also I liked the description of the relationship between the Japanese girl and the American boy because I find things like romance and love intriguing. Even though this book won the Pen/Faulkner Award in 1995, I don’t see how it did since it was such a hard book to read.
This book is well written but overall it is very long, laborious, and boring. I would rate this book one out of five stars. I would rate it this way because it takes forever to read and it is very wordy and long. I would not recommend reading this book.
But can it conquer bitterness? Can it overcome divisions? Can it heal the hurts caused by disappointments? Can it belong to you when you never possessed it in the first place?
San Piedro is a quiet fishing/farming community where the people work hard to earn their living and to raise their families, but everything is shattered with the death of Carl Heine, a local fisherman. Amidst a raging blizzard, a Japanese man is accused of murder and the community is forced to come to terms with their own prejudices and their own humanity. Wrapped up in the drama of the court case unravels a love story that was young and forbidden. The question of what love is, what we will do for love, and ultimately how love changes us are all explored in the context of two young lovers who discover that innocence is sometimes not enough to sustain it through the turmoils and upheavals of life.
Snow Falling on Cedars was the perfect match to the weather we were having the last week. The snow fell outside my window as it blanketed the landscape of San Piedro and like snow, the layers within the story, melted one layer at a time, one truth at a time.
In the beginning the constant jumping back and forth through the narrative was rather disjointing and hard to follow. As well, the sheer number of characters that were introduced, from the farmer next door, to the grocery clerk that worked on the corner, and most of these characters appear only once then fade away into the background, were enough to make me dizzy. Once the frenzy of introductions had calmed down, the story began to fall into place, and it was well worth the wait. The court case was riveting, the love story was heartbreaking. In the end, the snow abated both outside my home and within the pages of the story, but the memories of those who lived in San Piedro are permanently etched within my mind.
I had done a little research myself when I was back in high school but the focus was in Canada, not the States. It was basically about the injustices that were dealt to the Japanese Canadians during the World War II. The truth of the matter is that whenever someone brings up the case of prejudice and racism, most people directly think of Hitler, Nazis and the Jews. However, no one ever really brings up the North Americans and their own cases where they would go against its own citizens. The Japanese Canadians and Japanese Americans were treated like animals, enemies and "aliens", being sent away to internment camps. Although they were not murdered or gassed, it does not make the case any less serious.
This story is about how even in the name of justice and equality, humans can't help but add their emotions in. At the first hint of possible foul play, the law enforcers and citizens were already pointing their fingers at the Japanese Americans. Kabuo, the accused man, is seen as having the motive of hatred and prejudice when all along, it was hatred and prejudice that was being played against him. The narration is simply beautiful and captivating. Each character presents their case and brings you to see the underlying emotions of the people involved. The book has got my recommendation behind it.
This book was a bit dull to start with, it seemed scattered and a bit boring. After about a hundred pages though, I found myself raptly engaged in the history of this island, its people, its everything. By the end of the book, I was eating it up. I wouldn't say that it a page-turning edge-of-your-seat nail-biting whodunit, but it is very easy to get sucked up into the gently, realistic lives of the character. There is so much history in this book, about life in the 1940s for NW Islanders sharing their homes with 'the enemy' ["Japs"].
Well developed characters makes this story all the more believable and accessible.
I have found it problematic to determine whether I think this is a good book or not. The writing was uneven in quality throughout the book, and at times, I found myself thinking that it was all pointless. On the other hand, there were times when I thought it was wonderful, and I could understand why it won the Pen/Faulkner award for fiction in 1995.
One problem that I had was the uneven writing. At times, it was just outright clunky with too much passive voice making it unclear who was doing the action. This did not seem to be intentional or the writer’s choice of style. It was something that just appeared in the middle of the book and then left again by the end. I thought that some of the middle sections could have used a bit of editing and a rewrite for this reason.
It was during this middle section of the book that I began to be frustrated with the lack of a big, enlightening idea behind the story. It seemed as if the author was trying to convey the idea that racism is bad and that the treatment of Japanese people in the 1940s United States was particularly bad. I can see why this would have been a unique idea in 1950, but this novel was published in 1995 when these would have hardly been revolutionary ideas. It all seemed rather pointless.
It was in the last 100 pages that I thought that Guterson redeemed himself as an author. It was at this point that there was evidence of real growth in the characters in the novel and the revelation of some larger themes for the reader to consider. This section made me being to consider how we as humans relate to each other and the immense pain and happiness that can give each other through our relationships and our treatment of each other. In the end, our humanity and our human frailties are our only constants as the world itself is full of random coincidences that shape our fate. Guterson made this quite clear through his plot, his characters, and his beautiful portrayals of the island and it’s harsh winter weather.
I am left pondering the quality of this novel. I can only conclude that this is a good novel but not a great one. It is an enigma that contains some great writing at times despite its flaws. I could not put it down, which accounts for something, but I was also frequently frustrated by its problems, which also should count as well. I can recommend it, but I can’t say that it is a favorite.
I'm going to start with the things I liked about it. First of all, I really liked that for a historical fiction, this was a unique period of time. This is the first book I've ever read that spends time in the Japanese internment camps and that takes place in the post-WWII years. For that reason, this gets points for uniqueness. Also, I liked that Guterson spends a great deal of time with character development. He makes sure that the reader gets to know his cast of characters and comes to understand the motives behind their actions. But, more on that later. I particularly enjoyed the beauty of his language. There were times that I'd get completely caught up in the simple beauty of his words, and I found myself re-reading a few passages here and there. There was also a gorgeous love story, and that was mostly what kept me reading. I feel as though everything else sort of centered around that love story. It is a slower and calmer read, not necessarily one to keep the pages flipping, but I don't think that's negative in any way. I think that every now and then readers need something to slow them down and remind them why they love to read. Above all, though, my favorite thing about this book was that there was something for everyone--a trial and a murder investigation, a love story, war stories, seafaring stories, and stories from both Americans and Japanese Americans during WWII. This book was about love, redemption, forgiveness, responsibility, history, pride, and prejudice. To me, that is why this book was worth of the Pen/Faulkner Award.
However, there were a few things that I didn't like. First of all, although it is apparent that Guterson painstakingly researched his novel, the excessive amounts of detail at various points really detracted from the story. There were times when I'd be happily reading along, caught up in the story, and then I'd hit a chunk of two or three pages of unnecessary detail and I'd have to fight my way through. He doesn't do this all the time, I noticed. There are times when the amount of detail is enough to paint a lush picture in the reader's mind, but there were several times when it was just too much. There was only one other thing that I didn't really enjoy about this novel, and it was a doozy for me, being a reader for whom characters are everything. While Guterson excels at character development and really has a knack for it, I still managed to walk away from this one feeling no connection with his characters. This was rather strange for me and took me a while to place my finger on because usually with excellent character development comes a great connect with the characters. However, now that I've finished with this book, I'm fairly certain that these are not characters that will remain with me, and they weren't ones who I found myself daydreaming about.
Overall though, I do think this was a good book. I ended up just liking it, not loving it, but that doesn't take away from this being a good book. There were things I liked and things I didn't, but for me, that's what separates a great book from just a good one.
First the good: it's a powerful story, primarily about the atrocity that was the US's WW2 internment of Japanese-Americans, and with some important secondary themes like how the war itself damaged people and how men can hurt ourselves by internalising all our problems. Guterson's also a very talented writer, switching easily between a precise clinical style that fits the courtroom elements of the story, and a lyrical style that captures the feel of Puget Sound in winter beautifully.
But there were three flaws that by the end of the book really took a lot away in my eyes:
1. The two Japanese families who have major parts in the story feel like instances of a culture, not sets of living breathing characters. Even the two individuals from those families who are at the centre of the story felt more like roles than people. By halfway through I found myself really wanting to read a Nisei author's telling of the same story. And it's odd because this isn't about trading in nasty stereotypes--the author is clearly very much on their side, but still can't quite get past essentialising their culture.
2. Guterson has a strange obsession with penises, the size thereof, and writing very mechanical sex scenes in which the insertion of peg A into slot B is jarringly unsexy but kicks off massive emotional repercussions. Those scenes felt like they were written by a teenage boy feeling pressure to lose his virginity, and it's all the stranger because he's so good at writing other types of scene.
3. I'm going to hide this one. It's not exactly a suspense spoiler, but I don't want my impression of it to colour other peoples' reactions if you're reading this book with fresh eyes.
The confluence of lives in the story includes berry farmers, fishermen, a local newspaper publisher, and the Japanese-American woman with whom the publisher had a childhood romance—and who is now the wife of a Japanese-American accused of murdering a fisherman. Guterson weaves a very real and plausible story out of seemingly disparate pieces to create a work that is part romance, part mystery story, part courtroom drama, and part historical fiction (with the echoes of the internment camps into which the U.S. put Japanese citizens during World War II).
I did not see the film that inspired this book, but I understand that it was a pale imitation. So if you saw and were not impressed by the film, I hope you won’t let that prevent you from reading this book, which has subtle magic threading through it.
Blurb.......In 1954 a fisherman is found dead in the nets of his boat, and a local Japanese-American man is charged with his murder. In the course of his trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than one man's guilt. For on San Piedro, memories grow as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries - memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and a Japanese girl; 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 neighbours watched
I've had this on my bookshelf probably 15 years or so, ever since one of my sister's bought it for me as either a birthday or Christmas present. It was the sort of book that you went, hmmm that's nice, all the while thinking I'd have preferred socks. I have tried a couple of times over the intervening period to get into it, but it was always discarded after a chapter or two.
Anyway, this time with a new found resolve, to reduce the "stop-start-put aside" pile, I tried again.
Extremely glad I did, as it was well worth the effort.
I'm fairly sure this book appears on those lists of 100 best books or 100 books to read before you die type thing and did win the PEN/FAULKNER award for fiction in 1995.
Cutting to the chase, Guterson writes of a mixed community; American and Japanese-American still divided and struggling to deal with the aftermath of Pearl Harbour and the Second World War. The Japanese interned shortly after Pearl Harbour, losing everything and dependent on the goodwill of those more charitable neighbours who viewed them as friends and fellow Americans and not as an inscrutable Oriental enemy to be feared.
A truncated mixed race and clandestine teenage love story, which along with a land-deal that gets reneged on when the Japanese-Americans are interned, festers over the years in the hearts and minds of the protagonists.
Guterson explores racism and discrimination both from an institutional level with a large swage of the Japanese community unable to legally become landowners and on an individual basis where neighbour mistrusts neighbour because of the happenings of the previous ten years.
With a fisherman found dead in his nets, and a cursory investigation leading to his Japanese childhood friend, who was supposedly at loggerheads with him over the previously lost land, the murder trial allows the resentments and grievances of the past to resurface.
Guterson's writing is very descriptive and he brings the plot slowly to the boil, rather than providing a fast paced read. The sense of isolation on the island when the storm gathers is palpable.
Usually one of my yardsticks of measuring enjoyment from a book is to ask myself if I want to read more from the author. In this case, probably not, having read a selection of his short stories either late last year, or earlier on in this one. No particular reason why - maybe too many other books to consider.
Still very well written and enjoyable though,
4 from 5......not such a bad present from my sister after all!
When fisherman Carl Heine is pulled out of his fishing net, murder is suspected. Another fisherman, Kabu Miyamoto is arrested for the crime. The book gives us the story of the trial, as seen by Ishmael Chambers, owner of the Island newspaper. Ishmaels' childhood friend and first love, Hatsue, is married to Kabu Miyamoto. Through flashbacks we are shown life on the island, the friendship and romance of Ishmael and Hatsue, the arrest and internment of the Japanese residents of the Island during WW II, Ishmael's time in the Navy and the loss of one of his arms, the Miyamoto's deal with the Heine family to buy 7 acres of land for farming and the subsequent loss of that land while in internment and the continued prejudices of the island residents.
The prose is lovely and descriptive. You can practically smell the walls of cedar trees, taste and smell the strawberries, and feel the mist and fog on your face. A slow read that gets slower in the middle of the book, but so worth the time spent reading. Recommended.