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Snow Falling on Cedars

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Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric—a masterpiece of suspense which leaves us shaken and changed. Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award 1995 and the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award 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 Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric—a masterpiece of suspense which leaves us shaken and changed. Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award 1995 and the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award 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 a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, 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 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 neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense—one that leaves us shaken and changed.


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Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric—a masterpiece of suspense which leaves us shaken and changed. Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award 1995 and the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award 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 Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric—a masterpiece of suspense which leaves us shaken and changed. Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award 1995 and the American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award 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 a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, 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 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 neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense—one that leaves us shaken and changed.

30 review for Snow Falling on Cedars

  1. 5 out of 5

    Madeline

    You know that guy who's at every party, the one who loves to hear himself talk and tells long-winded stories while the unlucky few who got caught in his gravitational pull nod politely and and start eyeing the exits? Yeah. David Guterson is That Guy. His book has a really intersesting subject: a few years after World War Two, a man of Japanese descent is accused of killing a white man on the small island community of San Piedro. The story follows the trial and breaks every now and then for flash You know that guy who's at every party, the one who loves to hear himself talk and tells long-winded stories while the unlucky few who got caught in his gravitational pull nod politely and and start eyeing the exits? Yeah. David Guterson is That Guy. His book has a really intersesting subject: a few years after World War Two, a man of Japanese descent is accused of killing a white man on the small island community of San Piedro. The story follows the trial and breaks every now and then for flashbacks about various characters' pasts. Good story, but Guterson bogs it down with absolutely pointless backstories and details. I didn't need to know, for example, what six different random San Piedro residents did when the huge blizzard hit, or how the accused man's wife's mother was a mail order bride from Japan. And I think the book would have been equally enjoyable if Guterson hadn't treated his readers to a description of how the murder victim spent his last day alive screwing his wife in the shower. Guterson also works hard to keep his story dramatic (the courtroom scenes, I might add, are mind-numbingly boring). The accused man, Miyamoto, at first denies knowledge of the murder and then changes his story towards the end of the book, and whenever a character asks Miyamoto why he didn't tell the truth from the beginning, Guterson is careful to arrange the dialogue so Miyamoto never has to actually answer that question. Similarly, when a character uncovers some Very Important Evidence towards the end of the book, he takes his sweet time delivering the evidence to the judge so Guterson can stretch his story out for thirty more pages. By the last fifty pages of the book, I was just waiting for it to end and hoping there would be a really good twist ending that would make the whole experience better. (by the way: there isn't one) UPDATE: This. A thousand times this.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lizzy

    "Accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart." There are books that are to be read with all your senses, Snow Falling on Cedars is such a book. Here you fell and read about prejudice and star-crossed love, flashbacks of war times coupled with recollections of the dramatic Japanese-American internment during the Second World War. All in a all-present atmosphere, Snow Falling on Cedars has enough ingredients to assure a great read. But there is more, lovers "Accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart." There are books that are to be read with all your senses, Snow Falling on Cedars is such a book. Here you fell and read about prejudice and star-crossed love, flashbacks of war times coupled with recollections of the dramatic Japanese-American internment during the Second World War. All in a all-present atmosphere, Snow Falling on Cedars has enough ingredients to assure a great read. But there is more, lovers furtive encounters, a crime and a trial; I'm sure I'm leaving much behind... Nevertheless, what more could any reader wish for? David Guterson writes masterfully, transmitting to us readers a fascinating scenery and ambiance that goes well beyond relationships. As you turn the pages, without even realizing, you can feel profoundly not only on your skin but in your heart: "Inside their cedar tree, for nearly four years, he and Hatsue held one another with the dreamy contentment of young lovers. With their coats spread against a cushion of moss they'd stayed as long as they could after dusk... The tree produced a cedar perfume that permeated their skin and clothes. They would enter, breath deeply, then lie down and touch each other - the heat of it and the cedar smell, the privacy and the rain outside, the slippery softness of their lips and tongues inspired in them the temporary illusion that the rest of the world had disappeared..." But those had been indeed hard times: "I know you'll think this is crazy, but all I want is to hold you, and I think if you let me do that just for a few seconds, I can walk away, and never speak to you again." But aside from making you feel alive, Guterson creates a wide variety of full-blooded characters, with their own agonies, sentiment most acute in the case of Ishmael and his misery for the lost love and his war sufferings. Indeed, I found Guterson quite successful in evoking feelings long dormant within me. Ah, to be young and to love regardless of reality. But we do grow old, and when we least expect reality shows its hard countenance. We suffer, we loose, we adapt, we grow up, but we ultimately survive.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Matt

    From the age of 18 to approximately 22, I went through my blue period. This era was marked by dateless Friday nights, dateless Saturday nights, Soprano-less Sunday nights (The Sopranos not having gone on air yet), and a long flirtation with hipsterism. During this time, I watched relationships end with such arbitrariness that I was left to conclude the Universe had conspired against me. Maybe you've gone through a period like this. It's called youth. And if you have, you know there's a certain p From the age of 18 to approximately 22, I went through my blue period. This era was marked by dateless Friday nights, dateless Saturday nights, Soprano-less Sunday nights (The Sopranos not having gone on air yet), and a long flirtation with hipsterism. During this time, I watched relationships end with such arbitrariness that I was left to conclude the Universe had conspired against me. Maybe you've gone through a period like this. It's called youth. And if you have, you know there's a certain pleasure to be taken from the pain. Sure, part of me was preparing for my eventual transformation into the male version of a cat lady (a priest, I guess). But another part of me enjoyed dwelling in a half-depression. I listened to sad songs, I pretended to read poetry, I rewatched Richard Linklater's Before Sunrise 2,000 times, and I drank countless Moscow Mules at various hipster bars. It was during this time I read David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars. Despite its pretentious title, it is an accessible, mixed-genre book: a police procedural, courtroom drama, and story of star-crossed love, all rolled into one. (Of course, the movie version starred Ethan Hawke, the patron saint of morose twenty-somethings). The uniqueness of the book comes from its setting in Puget Sound in 1954. It is a place of snow and fog and a dark legacy with regards to its Japanese-American population, who were shipped off to internment camps during World War II. Snow Falling on Cedars unabashedly harkens to Moby Dick. It's main character is named Ishmael, and he, like Ahab, is a cripple, who lost a hand during World War II. He is obsessed with Hatsue, a Japanese girl whom he loved as a child. Love and obsession, two sides of the same coin. The main storyline concerns Hatsue's husband, Kabuoe, a fisherman who is charged with killing Carl Heine. By way of motive, Kabuoe believes that Carl's family reneged on a contract to sell Kabuoe a strawberry field. Ishamel, the crippled former lover of Kabuoe's wife, is a writer for the local paper. He covers the story while moping through life like the protagonist in a thousand emo songs. While the trial is taking place, there are flashbacks to Ishmael and Hatsue's relationship; the internment of Hatsue's family; and Ishmael's service in the war. Guterson is quite successful in evoking the everything-in-life-hinges-on-this feel of young love: Inside their cedar tree, for nearly four years, he and Hatsue had held one another with the dreamy contentedness of young lovers. With their coats spread against a cushion of moss they'd stayed as long as they could after dusk and on Saturday and Sunday afternoons. The tree produced a cedar perfume that permeated their skin and clothes. They would enter, breath deeply, then lie down and touch each other - the heat of it and the cedar smell, the privacy and the rain outside, the slippery softness of their lips and tongues inspired in them the temporary illusion that the rest of the world had disappeared... Ah, young love. And no, I am not and have never been a 12 year-old girl. Way back when I first read this book, a great measure of my enjoyment came from wallowing in Ishmael's misery. However, there are other pleasures to be had, for readers who have learned that the sun and moon do not rise and set with every relationship. There is a wide cast of characters possessed of the rural quirkiness well-mined by the likes of the Cohen brothers. Aside from Ishmael, Hatsue, and Kabuoe, you meet sheriff Art Moran, the prosecutor Alvin Hooks, the Gerry Spence-like defense attorney, Nels Gudmundsson, and Ole, the elderly strawberry farmer. More than the characters there is a sense of place. This is a lush, tactile novel, and you get enveloped in the weather and atmosphere: Center Valley's strawberry fields lay under nine inches of powder and were as fuzzy through the snowfall as a landscape in a dream, with no discernible hard edges. On Scatter Springs Drive the trees had closed the road in so that the sky was little more than an indistinct, drab ribbon overhead, but down here the dramatic expanse of it was visible, chaotic and fierce. Looking out past the windshield wipers Ishmael saw billions of snowflakes falling in long tangents, driven southward, the sky shrouded and furious. Part of the problem with life is we grow old too soon and forget too fast. When I think back to all the time I spent listening to Belle & Sebastian and pondering the monastery, I want to build a time machine just to go back in time and punch myself in the face. A book like Snow Falling on Cedars helps me remember what it meant to be young, and in love, and certain that all happiness hinged on these very things.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Kristine

    When I found the word "cedars" 7 times on a 2 page spread, I shut down. The language is simple; maybe I'm supposed to perceive it as deep, mysterious, or simply written in a beautiful way, but I just found it dull. I was so tired of hearing about snow and cedars. I think it had a trial in it, and a Japanese fisherman, and some discrimination; maybe it happened in an internment camp in Washington state or something. Or maybe the main character is investigating his father's involvement in a trial When I found the word "cedars" 7 times on a 2 page spread, I shut down. The language is simple; maybe I'm supposed to perceive it as deep, mysterious, or simply written in a beautiful way, but I just found it dull. I was so tired of hearing about snow and cedars. I think it had a trial in it, and a Japanese fisherman, and some discrimination; maybe it happened in an internment camp in Washington state or something. Or maybe the main character is investigating his father's involvement in a trial in the 1940's. I don't remember. My book club read it and our discussion of it was not very interesting. Funny- I just read a review by Gina- she called the language flowery and gave this example: "By October San Piedro had slipped off its summer reverler's mask to reveal a torpid, soporific dreamer whose winter bed was made of wet green moss....The gutters filled with rust-colored pine needles and the pungent effluvium of alder leaves, and the drainpipes splashed with the winter rain." I guess I just skim over this flowery language because it's so meaningless to the story. If I want imagery, I'll read some poetry, not this snowy cedary schlock. This language is flowery to the point of making no sense- a waste of the reader's time to ask them to parse out the convoluted imagery. Another reviewer on this site said the book had endless narration- I agree- it needed less description of the scenery and more about the characters and time period.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Erika

    It’s 1954 on an island off the Washington coast and Kabuo Miyamota is on trial for his life. Kabuo, a struggling commercial fisherman, has been accused of killing another fisherman, Carl Heine, over a land dispute. It’s easy to see why he might be convicted. There’s motive, opportunity, and a pile of circumstantial evidence. There’s also a lot of prejudice against Japanese Americans who are regarded with hostility especially after World War II. And Kabuo himself doesn’t help. Here is the opening It’s 1954 on an island off the Washington coast and Kabuo Miyamota is on trial for his life. Kabuo, a struggling commercial fisherman, has been accused of killing another fisherman, Carl Heine, over a land dispute. It’s easy to see why he might be convicted. There’s motive, opportunity, and a pile of circumstantial evidence. There’s also a lot of prejudice against Japanese Americans who are regarded with hostility especially after World War II. And Kabuo himself doesn’t help. Here is the opening sentence of this beautiful novel. The accused man, Kabuo Miyamota, 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. Some in the gallery would later say that his stillness suggested a disdain for the proceedings; others felt certain it veiled a fear of the verdict that was to come. Whichever it was, Kabuo showed nothing—not even a flicker of the eyes. “You look like one of Tojo’s soldiers,” his wife later tells him. “You’d better quit sitting up so straight and tall. These jury people will be afraid of you.” But he can’t. And that detachment, that strict insistence on giving nothing to the world, is one of the many themes Guterson explores. Another is the idea of perspective. As we get deeper into the trial and learn the secrets of each person involved, we see what's happened to these characters and how their life experiences influences everything they do. How can the true cause of a death be determined when everyone—even the medical examiner—can only see through the tiny, flawed lens of his or her own beliefs. This is especially true for another one of the novel’s protagonists, Ishmael Chambers. Ishmael, who runs the island’s newspaper, lost his arm fighting the Japanese, and the terrible pain in that phantom limb represents all the things he doesn’t have—a wife, a sense of community, the life he wanted. Ishmael fell in love with Kabuo’s wife when they were young, and he’s never really left the hollowed out cedar tree where they used to meet. Kabuo may hold himself back at his trial, but Ishmael isn’t even really there. This is a wonderful novel. It’s addictively plot-driven yet the events that take place are all in the service of the larger ideas that Guterson is exploring. Highly recommend.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Kevin Ansbro

    "None of those other things makes a difference. Love is the strongest thing in the world, you know. Nothing can touch it. Nothing comes close. If we love each other we're safe from it all. Love is the biggest thing there is." I believe that this suspenseful novel would also appeal to fans of To Kill a Mockingbird.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Natalia Smith

    Dense, plodding, dull, and lifeless. The plot is buried under a mass of irrelevant description and pointless detail. Guterson painstakingly describes every object, every person, every place, every building, every change in the weather, and the entire life history of every character who appears in the novel, in great detail and at great length. Take out all that pointless description, and you'd be left with maybe six pages of actual story, and even that story would be boring. Read To Kill a Mocki Dense, plodding, dull, and lifeless. The plot is buried under a mass of irrelevant description and pointless detail. Guterson painstakingly describes every object, every person, every place, every building, every change in the weather, and the entire life history of every character who appears in the novel, in great detail and at great length. Take out all that pointless description, and you'd be left with maybe six pages of actual story, and even that story would be boring. Read To Kill a Mockingbird instead.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Elyse Walters

    Kevin Ansbro, author of Kinnara, reminded me of this book...( having just read "The Translation in Love". Although both stories are different...the history is heartwrenching of how the American - and Canadian- Japanese were treated during and post WWII. I just saw that the author has a new book of 'short stories' coming out. "Snow Falling on Cedars" was a beautiful book. I must have read it before I was a Goodreads member -- (I still remember his 'writing'). Always did want to read another book Kevin Ansbro, author of Kinnara, reminded me of this book...( having just read "The Translation in Love". Although both stories are different...the history is heartwrenching of how the American - and Canadian- Japanese were treated during and post WWII. I just saw that the author has a new book of 'short stories' coming out. "Snow Falling on Cedars" was a beautiful book. I must have read it before I was a Goodreads member -- (I still remember his 'writing'). Always did want to read another book by this author!

  9. 4 out of 5

    David Lentz

    This PEN/Faulkner winning novel employs a narrative technique that distinguishes it. The tale is told from the points of view of the cast of characters. From their viewpoints the tale unfolds and we come to know the characters themselves more intimately because of their roles in relating the tale. Faulkner used this same approach in As I Lay Dying in which a group of travelers narrate their perspectives in the course of arduous travel. Chaucer likewise in The Canterbury Tales. The structure hing This PEN/Faulkner winning novel employs a narrative technique that distinguishes it. The tale is told from the points of view of the cast of characters. From their viewpoints the tale unfolds and we come to know the characters themselves more intimately because of their roles in relating the tale. Faulkner used this same approach in As I Lay Dying in which a group of travelers narrate their perspectives in the course of arduous travel. Chaucer likewise in The Canterbury Tales. The structure hinges around the murder trial of a Japanese-American who fought on the European front for the Allies during WWII. Unobtrusive flashbacks take us inside the minds of the characters as the tale unravels in an otherwise straight-ahead narrative style. The author's descriptions were quite beautifully moving and complete and finely drawn. The allusions to the snowfall during a great storm were a cohesive leitmotif repeated throughout the novel. The dialogue was, I found, a little uneven and a few of the characters seemed a little flat. However, the novel has heart and the primary characters rise to meet the harsh crises that life sends their way with dignity and honor and grace. The novel deals intelligently and unsentimentally about the subject of bias during a painful epoch for Asian-Americans. I would rate the novel between four and five stars: just shy of great for this appealing mainstream novel.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Bam

    This book is many things: historical fiction, police procedural, courtroom drama, and love story. It is a densely-written, character-driven novel set on the isolated island of San Piedro in Puget Sound, where the hatreds, bitterness, and wounds of WWII have not completely healed almost ten years after the war's end. The story opens in December, 1954, as Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American fisherman, is on trial for the premeditated murder of Carl Heine, a fellow island fisherman. The motive appe This book is many things: historical fiction, police procedural, courtroom drama, and love story. It is a densely-written, character-driven novel set on the isolated island of San Piedro in Puget Sound, where the hatreds, bitterness, and wounds of WWII have not completely healed almost ten years after the war's end. The story opens in December, 1954, as Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American fisherman, is on trial for the premeditated murder of Carl Heine, a fellow island fisherman. The motive appears to be seven acres of land that Kabuo believes the Heines stole from his family while they were interned during the war. Kabuo gazes out the courtroom window and sees snow falling; he has not seen the light of day since his arrest in September, seventy-seven days ago, and realizes he has completely missed autumn. Also in the courtroom is the reporter Ishmael, who was the childhood lover of Kabuo's wife, Hatsue, and still suffers in his soul from unrequited love. As he also watches the snow fall, he thinks about the contested land: "The world was one world, and the notion that a man might kill another over some small patch of it did not make sense--though Ishmael knew that such things happened. He had been to the war, after all." The rugged island setting is very important to the story--the isolatedness of life for its five-thousand residents, who are at the mercy of the changeable weather and the sea. As the trial unfolds and witnesses come forward to testify, flashbacks reveal what has led to the current situation--what has shaped each life and caused them to have the feelings and make the choices and judgments they have made: events such as Pearl Harbor and its aftermath, the internment of Japanese-Americans in camps, horrifying WWII fighting experiences, cultural forces and bigotry that thwart love's fulfillment. The mystery comes to a satisfying conclusion which I thought was well done. I thoroughly enjoyed the richness of these peoples' stories and believe they will stay with me for a long time, which is why I gave the book my top rating. It has been a long time since I've read a novel this well-done and I highly recommend it. I found these last thoughts from Ishmael most poignant: "The heart of ANY other, because it had a will, would remain forever mysterious. (H)e understood this, too: that accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart."

  11. 5 out of 5

    Phrynne

    Not sure why I have never read this before but I really enjoyed it anyway. Usually I am not a fan of court room dramas but the way this one alternated the court room scenes with background information and scenes from the past was wonderful. The representation of the Japanese people was a little stereotypical - no, a lot stereotypical - but it did not spoil the fascinating story. I was interested too to hear about this chapter in the history of the war. I knew about the way anyone with any German Not sure why I have never read this before but I really enjoyed it anyway. Usually I am not a fan of court room dramas but the way this one alternated the court room scenes with background information and scenes from the past was wonderful. The representation of the Japanese people was a little stereotypical - no, a lot stereotypical - but it did not spoil the fascinating story. I was interested too to hear about this chapter in the history of the war. I knew about the way anyone with any German heritage was rounded up in England, but I did not know about the Japanese in America. It was a very low point for humanity around the world. This is a good book anyway and worth reading for anyone who has not already done so!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Suzanne

    I really enjoyed the language and imagery the author created in this book. The title in itself sets the tone. I saw this years before the film and really felt the author conveyed what it was like living in the Pacific Northwest during the Second World War. I think the storyline is timeless. Forbidden love, societal rules...war. Recommended to those interested in period pieces with settings not often written about.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Peter Boyle

    David Guterson's award-winning debut is set in 1954 on the fictional island of San Pietro, off the coast of Washington state. When the body of fisherman Carl Heine is discovered early one foggy morning, the police are in no doubt that they have a murder on their hands. Suspicion falls upon Kabuo Miyamoto, a fellow fisherman who was known to been in dispute with the Heine family. Home to a large Japanese community, tensions have been high on San Pietro ever since Pearl Harbor, and the ensuing tri David Guterson's award-winning debut is set in 1954 on the fictional island of San Pietro, off the coast of Washington state. When the body of fisherman Carl Heine is discovered early one foggy morning, the police are in no doubt that they have a murder on their hands. Suspicion falls upon Kabuo Miyamoto, a fellow fisherman who was known to been in dispute with the Heine family. Home to a large Japanese community, tensions have been high on San Pietro ever since Pearl Harbor, and the ensuing trial only serves to add fuel to the flames. With evidence piling up, thing are looking grim for Kabuo - his wife Hatsue and their children are starting to lose hope. But local newspaperman Ismael Chambers has a nagging feeling that the case is not as clear-cut as it seems, and he begins his own inquiries into Carl's death. A review in the Independent on Sunday praised this novel for having a "page-whizzing narrative" and I can't think of a more inaccurate description. The pace is languorous for the most part, as Guterson gives us an intricate backstory of every major and minor character. Some of these detours I found absorbing, such as Ismael's horrific experiences in World War II. But other chapters, like a plodding reminiscence of his teenage romance with Hatsue almost put me to sleep. Yet I kept reading. The characters are so detailed and believably rendered, I had to find out their fates. So if you're looking for a nail-biting courtroom drama, I'd advise steering clear. However, if thoughtfully-constructed murder mysteries are your thing, then you can't go far wrong with this one.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Hermien

    I loved the writing and the subject.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Carol Storm

    Imagine what WEST SIDE STORY would have been like if Maria had married Chino like a good little girl. And Tony just sat around Pop's Soda Shop feeling sorry for himself. For ten years. David Guterson has written a careful, elegant novel that pushes all the right liberal buttons (racial prejudice, evil military men, small town nastiness) but resolutely avoids any kind of heat, sexual, political, racial, or otherwise. The "oppressed" Japanese are sentimentalized to the point of being laughably unre Imagine what WEST SIDE STORY would have been like if Maria had married Chino like a good little girl. And Tony just sat around Pop's Soda Shop feeling sorry for himself. For ten years. David Guterson has written a careful, elegant novel that pushes all the right liberal buttons (racial prejudice, evil military men, small town nastiness) but resolutely avoids any kind of heat, sexual, political, racial, or otherwise. The "oppressed" Japanese are sentimentalized to the point of being laughably unreal. The white, small-town rubes are a flock of sheep. They're all empty-headed gossips as well as weak-minded bigots. Small towns are all alike. Big cities are full of enlightened, independent thinkers. Natch! (This story must have really wowed them on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. Hey, that's where all the book reviewers are. Do you think maybe . . . maybe Guterson planned it that way? Nah . . .) What makes this book so offensive -- is that it isn't offensive. There's nothing in it that anyone IMPORTANT could find frightening, or objectionable. It's written beautifully, with tasteful nature descriptions on every page. It's all very careful, very reverent, very dull.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Tim

    A good story ruined for me by the way it's told - too many irrelevant sideshows, a constant flooding of insignificant details, too much flowery prose. The two important themes of this book - the racial prejudice harboured towards the Japanese-Americans during and after WW2 and the damage war does to a man's soul - often get lost in the surfeit of irrelevant detail, the backstories of incidental characters and the endless long passages about weather and landscape. A Japanese American is on trial A good story ruined for me by the way it's told - too many irrelevant sideshows, a constant flooding of insignificant details, too much flowery prose. The two important themes of this book - the racial prejudice harboured towards the Japanese-Americans during and after WW2 and the damage war does to a man's soul - often get lost in the surfeit of irrelevant detail, the backstories of incidental characters and the endless long passages about weather and landscape. A Japanese American is on trial for murdering a fellow fisherman who he seemingly has a motive to kill. The trial itself is an example of how overly detailed this novel is, the author painstakingly including all the nuances of courtroom protocol and thus dragging it out throughout the novel. We're consistently told things we don't need to know or already know and I eventually found myself skipping entire sections, something I rarely do. Disappointing.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Natalie Richards

    I loved this book. It was a slow start for me but then I really began to enjoy it. I liked the way that the writer gave such detail and background to all the characters; this helped to build the story and for me to feel as if I knew them. It has a lot of themes; murder, prejudice, hatred and humanity. I will now have to check out his other books.

  18. 5 out of 5

    CMT325

    This book grabbed me and wouldn't let me go ... at first. I had a hard time putting it down and doing required things to love, like eating and sleeping. But near the end of the book, it began to lose me. Let me elaborate. The book begins with a murder trial 10 years after World War II. On a tiny island in the United Sattes called San Piedro Sound, murder hasn't been as issue in many years. But a fisherman is dead, and foul play seems to be involved. The suspest is a Japanese American who lost lan This book grabbed me and wouldn't let me go ... at first. I had a hard time putting it down and doing required things to love, like eating and sleeping. But near the end of the book, it began to lose me. Let me elaborate. The book begins with a murder trial 10 years after World War II. On a tiny island in the United Sattes called San Piedro Sound, murder hasn't been as issue in many years. But a fisherman is dead, and foul play seems to be involved. The suspest is a Japanese American who lost land when Pearl Harbor was attacked and all the Japanese Americans were taken away from the island for awhile. The dead fisherman's mother did not sell him the land he had been promised after WWII, and the town believes he is still resentful for this. Also at the heart of the matter is the fact that even though Pearl Harbor and World War II ended a decade ago, the tension is still there on this tiny island. The other main part that we learn about is the wife of the murder suspect, who in her youth was in love with a white boy on the island. She knew her Japanese American family would never accept her marrying a white boy and so she married a JA man. Her love went to war and fought the Japanese-as he said, "I killed people that look like you." All of this was beautifully written and spellbinding. However, I was disappointed with the way the relationship between the two young lovers played out, and the end of the book suddenly turned into a detective novel instead of a story about forgiveness, love, and forgetting the past. And although the two main stories were tied together in the end, I don't think they were tied together in a way that worked for me. I want to see the movie and see if it leaves me feeling more complete ...

  19. 5 out of 5

    Duane

    This novel is a gem, a pleasure to read, and goes somewhat unnoticed in the realm of modern literature. It has striking similarities to "To Kill a Mockingbird". It's themes of prejudice, forbidden love, and greed are played out on a sleepy Puget Sound island in 1954. A white fisherman dies while out fishing one morning, and a Japanese American is accused of his murder. The prejudice surrounding Japanese Americans is strong in the aftermath of World War II, in spite of the fact most of them were This novel is a gem, a pleasure to read, and goes somewhat unnoticed in the realm of modern literature. It has striking similarities to "To Kill a Mockingbird". It's themes of prejudice, forbidden love, and greed are played out on a sleepy Puget Sound island in 1954. A white fisherman dies while out fishing one morning, and a Japanese American is accused of his murder. The prejudice surrounding Japanese Americans is strong in the aftermath of World War II, in spite of the fact most of them were native born American citizens. There is a trial and there are flashbacks to World War II right after the attack on Pearl Harbor, when these same Japanese American citizens were placed in internment camps. So well written, an absolute necessity for a dialogue driven novel.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Book Concierge

    At once a courtroom drama, a love story, a war story and a coming-of-age story, Guterson’s debut novel is a marvelous work depicting one man’s struggle against his baser instincts. Kabuo Miyamoto grew up on his family’s strawberry farm, land that his parents, born in Japan, were prohibited by law from owning. They leased the land from Carl Heine Sr, with an agreement that when their son turned 21, he (an American born citizen) would own the land. Natsue Imada also grew up on a strawberry farm, a At once a courtroom drama, a love story, a war story and a coming-of-age story, Guterson’s debut novel is a marvelous work depicting one man’s struggle against his baser instincts. Kabuo Miyamoto grew up on his family’s strawberry farm, land that his parents, born in Japan, were prohibited by law from owning. They leased the land from Carl Heine Sr, with an agreement that when their son turned 21, he (an American born citizen) would own the land. Natsue Imada also grew up on a strawberry farm, at the opposite end of San Piedro Island from the Miyamoto’s farm. Her near neighbor and childhood friend was Ishmael Chambers, son of the local newspaper owner/editor. Natsue and Ishmael form an attachment as children and teenagers, but their plans are interrupted by World War II, and the internment of all Japanese. Twelve years later, Hatsue is married to Kabuo, who is on trial for murdering Carl Heine, Jr, a local fisherman, and son of the woman who “stole his family’s land” while they were in the internment camps. Guterson uses the trial as the framework for telling the story of these three people, whose lives are intertwined and bound by local history, prejudice, regret and grudges. The men, in particular, harbor resentments from past injuries, and seem trapped in holding on to their feelings of having been wronged and/or done wrong. Island life is unique in that the residents have few opportunities to truly isolate themselves from one another. Separated from the rest of world by an expanse of water, they must form a community to help one another. There is one hardware store, one post office, one grocer, one mechanic, one school. They may have squabbles, but if you make an enemy you will not be able to avoid that person. So, in general, they set aside their differences and get along – at least on the surface. But all that is unsaid is kept inside one’s soul, festering and shaping thoughts and behaviors. This is the quandry for Ishmael and Kabuo, and to some extent Carl Jr. The attack on Pearl Harbor unites the American citizens against “the Japs” and results in tensions between families that have peacefully coexisted for years. Guterson masterfully pits a German family against a Japanese family – at one point even having a character comment on the irony of the Japanese being viewed as the enemy, while the Germans are NOT automatically labeled as Nazis. Ishmael’s quandry is more complex. He loses his heart to Hatsue, only to have it broken, and then loses an arm in the Pacific theater – “blown off by a Jap.” Covering the trial, he cannot bear to look at her, he cannot bear to look away. He longs for her and yet blames her for his current state. His moral dilemma is made more difficult by the latent prejudice rife among island residents, to which he is also falling prey. I love this paragraph near the end of the book (no spoiler): Islanders were required by the very nature of their landscape, to watch their step moment by moment. No one trod easily upon the emotions of another where the sea licked everywhere against an endless shoreline. And this was excellent and poor at the same time – excellent because it meant most people took care, poor because it meant an inbreeding of the spirit, too much held in, regret and silent brooding, a world whose inhabitants walked in trepidation, in fear of opening up. Considered and considerate, formal at every turn, they were shut out and shut off from the deep interplay of their minds. They could not speak freely because they were cornered: everywhere they turned there was water and more water, a limitless expanse of it in which to drown. They held their breath and walked with care, and this made them who there were inside, constricted and small, good neighbors.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Colleen Coyne

    Overall, I was disappointed by this book. It could have been amazing, but Guterson doesn't seem to be able to create a compelling story or fully flesh out his characters. His greatest strength may be his ability to convey place - not in his occasionally overwrought, almost painfully flowery metaphors and similes, but in the rare moments where he captures the essence of the Pacific northwest in small but important details, simply stated. His language is evocative and moody, and there's no questio Overall, I was disappointed by this book. It could have been amazing, but Guterson doesn't seem to be able to create a compelling story or fully flesh out his characters. His greatest strength may be his ability to convey place - not in his occasionally overwrought, almost painfully flowery metaphors and similes, but in the rare moments where he captures the essence of the Pacific northwest in small but important details, simply stated. His language is evocative and moody, and there's no question that he knows what he wants to accomplish through his setting. His characters, though, are another thing. The major players - Ishmael, Hatsue - are pretty fully formed and complex. Though the end of the book doesn't find them obviously transformed, this is for the best because it's truest to who they are. The rest of the characters are mostly embarrassingly stock stereotypes of 'town folk'. The book moved slowly, which didn't bother me too much, but the resolution was underwhelming. It would have been problematic in many ways for Guterson to give us a ending like "the whole town learned an important lesson about diversity and tolerance" but at least that would have been an ending. The story ends timidly, afraid to explore anything too daring.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Tocotin

    What. A. Boring. Book. Absolutely pointless, with half-dead characters, mystery that leads nowhere, and a big fat bunch of stereotypes about small communities, Japanese, Germans, war veterans, men, women, you name it. One of those books where a noble intent only infuriates the reader. Why was it even written? To show that East is East and West is West and they can have sex but not love or what? The Japanese elements were beyond lame. OMG there is nothing like "odori dance", "Shizuoka-ken-prefectur What. A. Boring. Book. Absolutely pointless, with half-dead characters, mystery that leads nowhere, and a big fat bunch of stereotypes about small communities, Japanese, Germans, war veterans, men, women, you name it. One of those books where a noble intent only infuriates the reader. Why was it even written? To show that East is East and West is West and they can have sex but not love or what? The Japanese elements were beyond lame. OMG there is nothing like "odori dance", "Shizuoka-ken-prefecture" or whatever, and if the author thinks that mono-no aware means "the ultimate beauty", then fine, but he might want to know that it's about as appropriate a compliment to a woman on her wedding night as memento mori. Of course young Japanese people born in the States eat only rice balls and fish and drink only green tea. Ah and they write on rice paper. I'd write more but just don't want to waste any more time on this. 悪しからず。

  23. 4 out of 5

    Carol

    Guterson really knows how to tell a story! I liked how he gave background information on the characters because it really built the characters and gave an excellent history to help the reader understand where the writer was going with the events.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Mazy Bracha

    The first time I read this book I was much younger and happier than today. I remember that it made a great impression on me and I loved it very much. So if this review had written at that time, it would get a 5-star book. But that's not the case this time.  As I sometimes do, I see a book that reminds me of something from the past, and I reread it. But the present reading didn't give me the same enthusiasm for the first time, perhaps because I am no longer fond of the genre of detective stories The first time I read this book I was much younger and happier than today. I remember that it made a great impression on me and I loved it very much. So if this review had written at that time, it would get a 5-star book. But that's not the case this time.  As I sometimes do, I see a book that reminds me of something from the past, and I reread it. But the present reading didn't give me the same enthusiasm for the first time, perhaps because I am no longer fond of the genre of detective stories or instead this time I didn't notice there ware any mystery, suspense or detective story Tchlas. The beginning of the book and its end were a bit boring to my taste, yet, the middle of the book remained as good as I remembered it was - fascinating and teach about the prejudices and relations between Japanese and American immigrants in the war, after Pearl Harbor and the years after. All through a story about a small town surrounded by the sea and the trial of a local Japanese, through which the mixed feelings of the islanders towards immigrants introduced from hatred to sympathy and everything in between. In conclusion, I would say that the book is suitable for reading once in life.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Alison

    This book has just the right balance of drama, suspense, mystery and romance. It is set among the historical backdrop of WWII, overshadowed by the dark cloud of the internment of Japanese-Americans and sprinkled with patriotism and prejudice. Add good writing and steady pace and you have all the elements to make a wonderful novel! The author does a great job of illuminating the motives of each character and it's fascinating. I mean, poor Ishamel is motivated by lust and longing and regret and ha This book has just the right balance of drama, suspense, mystery and romance. It is set among the historical backdrop of WWII, overshadowed by the dark cloud of the internment of Japanese-Americans and sprinkled with patriotism and prejudice. Add good writing and steady pace and you have all the elements to make a wonderful novel! The author does a great job of illuminating the motives of each character and it's fascinating. I mean, poor Ishamel is motivated by lust and longing and regret and hatred which has led him to a dead-end in life until... well, you'll have to read the book to find out!

  26. 4 out of 5

    Michael

    3.5 stars, though it says differently above. Worth reading, and owning, but perhaps I should have bought it on sale. Reviewing this book is taking me a good amount of time after finishing it. There are many things that I think ought to be said about the book, but I am unsure how they all fit together. In addition to this, I have to keep myself unaware of the award-status and the fact that my grandfather was a navyman and a sailor at heart. The language is rough but rhythmic, representative of the 3.5 stars, though it says differently above. Worth reading, and owning, but perhaps I should have bought it on sale. Reviewing this book is taking me a good amount of time after finishing it. There are many things that I think ought to be said about the book, but I am unsure how they all fit together. In addition to this, I have to keep myself unaware of the award-status and the fact that my grandfather was a navyman and a sailor at heart. The language is rough but rhythmic, representative of the typical life he seeks to represent. The vocabulary, though mostly good, does seem - especially in the first quarter - a little overdone, as if he is deliberately trying to use words instead of letting them flow out of his impetus. However, this does not drag the book. What does drag the book, I feel, are three things in particular: two parts objective, one thing entirely subjective. First the subjective: I do not particularly enjoy courtroom novels (as might be seen from my star-reviews of Grisham). Next, the objective: I felt that at times it was languid, that parts were unnecessary, inefficient, unnecessary and eventually functioning as writer's slack in order to keep him thinking for future material. I found myself regularly checking to see how long I had to go for the chapter, and it was regularly 6-7 pages before finish. There were parts that seemed forced, as if he felt he had to come up with something brilliant when such was not required, and thus those times sounded inauthentic from him as an author. The third thing is, frankly, that there are nuances I believe are inconsistent with the background of whole groups of characters; for example, Buddhist tenets are misrepresented, even reversed once, to fit the mindset of the character in question. Perhaps this is on purpose, but if it was to be purported as fact, it was incorrect and took a little of the momentum away. However, there is much about the book that keeps it sleek and enjoyable. One is the character development, that as far as I can tell is quite accurate for the personalities he chooses, and he maintains a sense of mystery about persons, so that one never fully knows any of them - this is accurate, realistic, and appreciable. Again the tone and flow is also well-representative of the setting which he seeks to portray. (Albeit, it is an entirely fictional setting; San Piedro Island cannot be visited, which affords him great leeway in character development as well. This last bit is perhaps a drawback to the full potential of his skill.) In addition to these things, his careful use of language, his ability to shift back and forth to be accurate about completely polar opposite opinions held by the characters, the flow of the storyline and graceful swtiching of the grammatical tenses (which was by far the strongest aspect of the writing - I found myself frequently engrossed in something and then all of sudden wondering how I got there, which means he lost me enough to stop paying attention to his writing ability altogether): all of these make this a book worth reading and keeping. Being awarded the Faulkner is what drew me to it, but it may be the case as well that there was not as much fierce competition as of late. For all of these things, I gave it the rating above. A well-written novel, and worth enjoying. At the very least, being from a distinctly Northwestern voice, it made me crave blueberries and coffee!

  27. 4 out of 5

    Debbie

    I've been so busy I took a long time with this book, however, it is no reflection on how much I like this book, respect the necessity of this book and completely comprehend it's position as a classic book. I now understand why this book is an award winner and found on many syllabus as required reading. I wasn't really sure what to expect upon beginning this book. I just knew I was looking for something good and worth reading. From the very first page the author's skill made it self known. I coul I've been so busy I took a long time with this book, however, it is no reflection on how much I like this book, respect the necessity of this book and completely comprehend it's position as a classic book. I now understand why this book is an award winner and found on many syllabus as required reading. I wasn't really sure what to expect upon beginning this book. I just knew I was looking for something good and worth reading. From the very first page the author's skill made it self known. I could tell that this was not going to be a let down and it wasn't in any way. From the writing style, to the content of the story, to the delivery and emotion in the detail.. there was nothing that I was not satisfied with in this read. This is a book about a trial within small town of a Japanese American man in the years following WWII but it's so much more than that. The author delves back in to glimpse the history of the town and it's inhabitants before the war, at the onset of the war and the internment camps, during the war the transformation and after. It is also the story of several characters love, forbidden love, choices, friendship, loyalty, patriotism and racism. This as most know is another classic that producers/directors saw fit to attempt a movie version. I'd known about the movie and may have even watched it very long ago but must not have been impressed because I remembered nothing but the fact that I "may" have seen it on cable possibly. As I neared the half way point in my reading I discovered it again was showing on cable, I recorded it and was looking forward with much anticipation to watching this version and comparing it to the movie. I don't know why because most movie versions fall severely short of their written counterpart that it's almost a waste of time to bother, however, I was interested. Well, after watching the movie I must admit.. my original apprehensions were correct. It fell short. Liberties were taken adding dialog that did not exist or changed the magnificence of the written version. Essential dialogs, characters, scenes were omitted and therefore took away the depth that this wonderful work carries within it. It changed the whole message I believe the author was trying to deliver. I found myself shaking my head and eventually yelling at the screen, "that did not happen!! What are you doing, you're ruining it!" It's so sad that some such wonderful, pivotal works of fiction just can't get their just due in film form. My advice is, if you've seen this movie, forget it, go pick up the book! If you read this book, just forget a movie exists until hopefully Hollywood picks up the topic again (like they did with Gatsby) and hopefully does a better job at it. I give this book all 5 stars because it deserves it. I would love to go back at some later time and re-read this book giving it more time to quote lots of essential lines, dissect characters and contrast and compare the scenes, atmosphere and history and how it applies to us now in the real world. Again, this is an important piece of literature. I recommend to everyone because this is a required reading. It's not a difficult read at all and you will be consumed. It is a serious modern, classic read though, so if you're into comedy, horror, fantasy or chick lit, this isn't for you.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Brian

    Set in the North of Washington State, near the border with Canada in 1954, Snow Falling On Cedars focuses on the trial of a Japanese American suspected of the murder of a local fisherman. In doing so it explores the experience of Japanese Americans during and after the Second World War and the complex of prejudice and resentment they encountered. If that sounds like a preachy book, then I should add that Guterson is not given to generalisations. He is interested in individuals, the moral dilemma Set in the North of Washington State, near the border with Canada in 1954, Snow Falling On Cedars focuses on the trial of a Japanese American suspected of the murder of a local fisherman. In doing so it explores the experience of Japanese Americans during and after the Second World War and the complex of prejudice and resentment they encountered. If that sounds like a preachy book, then I should add that Guterson is not given to generalisations. He is interested in individuals, the moral dilemmas they face and the struggles which accompany their decisions, whether for good or ill. It's such a well-crafted book that it feels as though it were written in an earlier era when novels were built up slowly and solidly and there wasn't such a desperate need to grab the reader by the throat at the beginning of the book. Guterson's storytelling is slow and careful and his writing is characterised by an extraordinarily vivid evocation of place and character. Here's how he describes the Counsel for the Defence Nels Gudmundsson, the attorney who had been appointed to defend Kabuo Miyamoto, rose to cross-examine Art Moran with a slow and deliberate geriatric awkwardness, then roughly cleared the phlegm from his throat and hooked his thumbs behind his suspenders where they met their tiny black catch buttons. At seventy-nine, Nels was blind in his left eye and could distinguish only shades of light and darkness through its transient, shadowy pupil. The right, however, as if to make up for this deficiency, seemed preternaturally observant, even prescient, and as he plodded over the courtroom floorboards, advancing with a limp toward Art Moran, motes of light winked through it And here's how he describes the beginning of the storm which provides the ever-present backdrop to the trial. Outside the wind blew steadily from the north, driving snow against the courthouse. By noon three inches had settled on the town, a snow so ethereal it could hardly be said to have settled at all; instead it swirled like some icy fog, like the breath of ghosts, up and down Amity Harbor’s streets — powdery dust devils, frosted puffs of ivory cloud, spiraling tendrils of white smoke. By noon the smell of the sea was eviscerated, the sight of it mistily depleted, too; one’s field of vision narrowed in close, went blurry and snowbound, fuzzy and opaque, the sharp scent of frost burned in the nostrils of those who ventured out of doors. The snow flew up from their rubber boots as they struggled, heads down, toward Petersen’s Grocery. When they looked out into the whiteness of the world the wind flung it sharply at their narrowed eyes and foreshortened their view of everything. Everything in this novel is clearly visualized and set out with a eye for salient detail. It's a compelling work of fiction that belongs, in my opinion, in the front rank of post-war American fiction.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Cary

    This remains my favorite book that I've ever read. It has suspense, romance, heartbreak, injustice, you name it. In addition, the setting is in the pacific northwest where I live and relates the terrible story of how japanese americans were treated in this country during World War II. Guterson's descriptions brought the story into vivid focus. Many of the agricultural references rang true to me, as some of the same practices were in place when I was a boy. Interestingly, I read another of his bo This remains my favorite book that I've ever read. It has suspense, romance, heartbreak, injustice, you name it. In addition, the setting is in the pacific northwest where I live and relates the terrible story of how japanese americans were treated in this country during World War II. Guterson's descriptions brought the story into vivid focus. Many of the agricultural references rang true to me, as some of the same practices were in place when I was a boy. Interestingly, I read another of his books and was unimpressed, so I am not sure I would choose any of his other works.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sheri

    There isn't anything that I can write that will properly describe this book. The characters, the scenery, the crime and the trial are all together described with beauty and it will leave a powerful impression on you. The anti-Japanese attitudes that were rampant in this time are a major part of the story and the author does a phenomenal job of conveying this honestly.

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