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3.9 out of 5 stars
Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel
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213 of 224 people found the following review helpful
Reviewer's Disclaimer: I grew up in the Puget Sound area and worked a couple of summers picking strawberries on farms owned by Japanese-American farmers.
Snow Falling on Cedars was an absorbing, thoroughly enjoyable read. At times an interracial romance, a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, and a fictionalized chronicle of the World War II internment of Japanese-Americans, this book pulls the reader into an accurate rendering of life on an island in Puget Sound. The disparate aspects of the novel are seamlessly interwoven into a narrative that allows the reader to embrace the plot, the characters, and the dead-on descriptions of the physical characteristics of the novel's setting.
The novel is narrated by Ismael Chambers, the publisher of the only newspaper on San Piedro Island, the fictional stand-in for Bainbridge Island, Washington. The islanders are, with few exceptions, either strawberry farmers or Salmon fishermen. When a white fisherman dies under suspicious circumstances, the evidence points towards a Japanese-American fisherman who was the last person to see the dead man alive. Ishmael's boyhood romance with Hatsue, the girl that later becomes the accused man's wife, provides fertile material for interesting flashbacks to the early 1940s, when virtually all of the island's Japanese-American population was carted off to internment camps soon after the bombing of Pearl Harbour.
I have always believed that one of the true marks of a great novelist is his/her ability to create believable characters of the opposite sex. Many well-respected writers fail at this task. In this novel, David Guterson's portrayal of Hatsue rings as true as any reader could hope for.
If you have seen the film based on the novel, please don't let its substantial shortcomings steer you away from this book, which is a must read for anyone who enjoys contemporary fiction.
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38 of 43 people found the following review helpful
David Guterson has given us an amazing book in Snow Falling on Cedars. It is hard to categorize this novel as it's part murder mystery, part courtroom drama, part war chronicle and part romance.

The story begins in 1954 as a Japanese-American fisherman is on trial for murder. Kabuo Miyamoto is the chief suspect in the killing of fellow fisherman Carl Heine, because of a dispute over farm land. The entire book takes place on fictional San Piedro Island in Puget Sound. The inhabitants of this small island tend to be either gill-net fishermen or strawberry farmers. There are a number of Japanese on San Piedro, and there's an uneasy coexistence with the locals.

In flashbacks, Guterson takes us to life on the island prior to World War II. Living on the island could be hard, but rewarding. But things changed rapidly with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Many Japanese men were sent to work camps. Soon after, the rest of them were relocated to internment camps. Many of the local boys (Japanese included) enlisted, and the author gives us glimpses of their war experiences. Those who returned home bore the scars of war, and these things set the stage for the murder trial.

This novel is so moving on so many levels. I was moved by the love story between Hatsue and Ishmael, two innocent teens who were kept apart by the prejudice of their parents generation. Guterson's love scenes were few, but tender. I was mortified by the ugly chapter in our nations past when American's of Japanese decent were herded into internment camps. Their treatment was deplorable. I was saddened by the continued prejudice toward the Japanese--even well after the war. My heart was also warmed by the heroic deeds performed by unlikely heroes. I was also awed by the beautiful prose that often bordered on poetry. In describing how a wife tried to help her husband recover from the war, Guterson writes "She sat across from him at the kitchen table at three o'clock in the morning, while he stared in silence or talked or wept, and she took when she could a piece of his sorrow and stored it for him in her own heart." It doesn't get much better than this.

This year isn't quite halfway over, but I already predict that Snow Falling on Cedars will be one of the best books I read this year.
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16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
on November 8, 1999
I read this book with a heavy heart. I was asked to read it by a friend. I lost my dad in Vietnam and I've had a prejudice against Asian-Americans. But, this book went a long way in showing me how wrong I am to be so quick to judge someone. The descriptions of the interment camp, and the thoughts & feelings of the characters on being judged just because of their heritage was amazing. I didn't realize that I fit into the 'judger' catagory until I finished the book. I came to like the Japanese-Americans characters a great deal. I've opened my eyes to the world around me, and I'm trying to be more open-minded in my life. Thank you, Mr. Guterson.
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on November 12, 1999
I've read so many books throughout my studies, however none has captured my attention and heart as this one. From the moment I picked it up, I did not want to put it down. David Guterson definitely has a way with words. The story makes you feel compassion for the Japanese and the suffering they went through. There's definitely a twist in the end that's superb. This was one of the greatest books of all time.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
on May 22, 2007
It combines racism, tradition, pride, glory, love, hate and justice. This novel sheds light on a small experience in such a colossal war. One can only comprehend the many tragedies of World War II through this in-shoes, personal level.

Reading this novel will give you insight on your own cons: racism, hate, injustice and prejudice.

It conveys the lack of appreciation one may have for their life... but the utmost gratitude that comes when love is introduced, as "first love never dies", if your first love is dead you may have nothing to appreciate.

I do not want to spoil this read for anyone; Snow Falling on Cedars is a riveting work that deserves your attention.
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8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
on January 14, 2000
This was a wonderful book. But I agree that it is not for everyone. It is primarily charcter driven, and not plot driven. Is it a great mystery? No. It is, though, a wonderful exploration of the human heart and how events beyond our control can change our lives forever. It is a book that provoked much thought in me. It makes you shake your head in sadness at how prejudices interfere with love and people's dreams.
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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on August 28, 2000
Snow Falling on Cedars is one of those books that when you read it, you will probably never forget it. And when it comes back to you, you will remember the vivid scenes and the quiet, serene beauty that created by the author in this soulful novel.
The story takes place in Puget Sound, Washington on a small island called San Piedro, a fishing and strawberry farm town. Much of the population of the area was of Japanese-Americans, many of who worked in the strawberry fields. The story is during the war, and so there was a lot racism and hatred toward the Japanese, and even the Japanese-Americans were targeted. They were barely considered U.S citizens, treated pretty badly as though they were their enemies as well.
It is the story of a murder trial, a first love, and the lives of everyday people living in a small town, struggling through hard times, and cherishing the good ones, and the memories that go with them.
One of the things I liked most about this book was that it was written in a way where you saw the perspective of different parts of the story through different people. I liked that aspect.
While I was reading this book I was brought into the world of the characters and the surroundings. I was there sitting in the courtroom, I was there smelling the cedar trees the sea breeze, I was there in the strawberry fields smelling the warm strawberries and feeling the heat upon my back. You are feeling a pain for Ishmael when he is in pain.
I definitely recommend this book. I hope that you will agree with me that the wonderfully detailed and heart stopping moments make this a unforgettable book. p.s-the movie is also pretty good!
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22 of 27 people found the following review helpful
on January 20, 2000
I am appalled at the number of middle school and high school students who are reading this book. It isn't really appropriate for many of them because they aren't ready for books that make them think. I teach English, and though I admit some of my middle and high school students would truly appreciate the beautiful prose and touching characters, most would believe it lacked action and a distinctive plot structure. Those who are ready seem to enjoy it and understand the point of reading it.
It's like a grown-up To Kill a Mockingbird -- the trial is interesting, but it isn't the focal point. The focal point is the ethical development and disillusionment of Ishmael and Hatsue as they mature in different ways at different times of their lives. Ishmael must come to understand Hatsue's Japanese heritage and what that means to her in the 1950's.
I truly believe this is a modern classic because it speaks to a time that many of us don't remember or don't want to remember. Yet it doesn't offend us . . . instead it draws us in and shows us the horrors of society and the beauty of individuals at the same time.
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7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 1999
It is impossible to describe the things this book makes a person feel. David Guterson may be one of the best authors at work today. Hatsue and Ishmael's characters seem so real, they could be your next door neighbor. This book should be read by anyone who enjoys real good descriptions and exciting plot twists. To sum it all up, I think that people should read this book, if their viewpoint differs from mine that's too bad, but I know there are more people that will agree with me rather than disagree
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9 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on October 13, 2000
35 years ago, when I was a child, I read Gallico's "Snow Goose". It is a story which remains vivid in my mind, a glistening pearl shining amond the pebbles.
It is much the same with "Snow Falling on Cedars". One can only marvel at Guterson. He has chosen each word with exquisite care, gently and lovingly placing it into the sentence so that it almost shouts for joy that it is in absolutely the right place.
It can be argued that writing is a craft, much like brick-laying. A mis-placed brick in a wall stands out like the proverbial canine testes: a badly placed word will do the same. The majority of popular authors are skilled craftsmen, making each word count. Guterson, however, takes writing to another plane. Each sentence is water to a thirsty man. The sum of each paragraph is equal to more than its parts. He is as far removed from the craft of writing as Michelangelo was from the craft of quarrying.
I feel that, should Guterson ever choose, he could write a VCR or DVD instruiction manual and not only make it comprehensible, but also make it elegant.
When you read the book - for read it you must - you will be entranced by the story, and the characters' moral dilemmas, and all-too-human foibles, fears, and frustrations.
But mostly you will be warmed by the words. You will find yourself returning to the book time and again, simply for the pleasure of a perfect phrase, a sublime sentence.
This is what writing should be, and seldom is. This is what reading can be. Let us rejoice in it.
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