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.
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 disappearedAh, 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 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.
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 about the characters and time period.
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.
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 isI believe that this suspenseful novel would also appeal to fans of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Kevin Ansbro, author of Kinnara, reminded me of this book having just read The Translation in Love Although both stories are differentthe 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 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 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.
On San Piedro, An Island Of Rugged, Spectacular Beauty In Puget Sound, A Japanese American Fisherman Stands Trial For Murder Set In In The Shadow Of World War II, Snow Falling on Cedars Is A Beautifully Crafted Courtroom Drama, Love Story, And War Novel, Illuminating The Psychology Of A Community, The Ambiguities Of Justice, The Racism That Persists Even Between Neighbors, And The Necessity Of Individual Moral Action Despite The Indifference Of Nature And Circumstance