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Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel Paperback – Unabridged, September 26, 1995

3.9 out of 5 stars 1,008 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

This is the kind of book where you can smell and hear and see the fictional world the writer has created, so palpably does the atmosphere come through. Set on an island in the straits north of Puget Sound, in Washington, where everyone is either a fisherman or a berry farmer, the story is nominally about a murder trial. But since it's set in the 1950s, lingering memories of World War II, internment camps and racism helps fuel suspicion of a Japanese-American fisherman, a lifelong resident of the islands. It's a great story, but the primary pleasure of the book is Guterson's renderings of the people and the place.

From Publishers Weekly

First-novelist Guterson presents a multilayered courtroom drama set in the aftermath of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Series: snow falling on cedars
  • Paperback: 460 pages
  • Publisher: Vintage; 1st edition (September 26, 1995)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 067976402X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0679764021
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1,008 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #8,371 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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By David Lister on July 6, 2000
Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
Snow Falling on Cedars is an interesting, low-keyed book about a time and a place unfamiliar to most readers.I enjoyed a it lot, both for its language and its human insights. I would never have expected, however, that this book would generate such extremely divergent responses from readers. Some think it is the best thing they ever read and others damn it as a waste of time. There is no question that much of what the critical reviews say is true: the book is slow, it is very long on detail, it jumps around in time, it doesn't focus on the 'mystery' and the trial, and the ending is somewhat predictable. But none of these things can be criticisms unless the author intended the book to be more fast paced, plot driven, and have a snappy surprise ending. The readers are really complaining that the book is not what they wanted or expected it to be - some more traditional mystery, love story, thriller type book - the kind of books that the shelves and best seller lists are full of and that demand nothing from the reader and deliver even less.
This book, on the contrary, is an evocation of time and place. It is largely 'memory' even though it is not a first person narrative. It asks the reader to relax into a poetic reverie on who these people are and how they came to the situation upon which the plot turns. The author does not push the mystery element except as an excuse to uncover more information about his characters, their relationships and the origins of their current lives.
Not everyone enjoys this kind of book. Certainly those who gravitate towards Jackie Collins or John Grisham should not be expected to find this to their likeing. Even those who read only 'serious' literature have special tastes and only some will appreciate this.
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Format: Paperback
Overall, I enjoyed this book very much. In particular I liked the evocation of the sea, snow and island way of life. The description of the geography was very powerful and one could almost taste the salt-ladden air and feel the cold. Sometimes I would re-read a paragraph two or three times, both so as to fully immerse myself in the beauty of Gutterson's prose and in sheer awe and appreciation of his skill with words and his keen sense of observation of people.
A strong feature of the novel is the way in which Gutterson shows readers how the environment has shaped his characters, for example, (1) Kabuo's obsessive yearning for his stolen land containing the strawberry fields, (2) Hatsue and Ishmael's childhood love affair, which grows from their fascination with the sea and cedar forests (I remember the imagery of the glass sea box), (3) later in the story, Ishmael draws comfort from the forest because it embodies Hatsue for him and reminds him of their intimate encounters in the cedar tree.
In terms of evocation of place and atmosphere, this book reminds me very much of Miss Smilla's Feeling for Snow (or as Americans would know it, Smilla's Sense of Snow) and The Shipping News by E Annie Proulx. All three books have in common the sense of snow, the sea, sailing etc and have been favourites of mine for some time.
To me, this is a story about the tragedy of a man who cannot come to terms with the loss of a childhood sweetheart. Ishmael's war experiences impact upon his initial loss of Hatsue in many ways. Ishmael's yearning for Hatsue long after returning from the experience of war, is perhaps at times, a distraction which prevents him from realising the full horror of his war experiences (including the loss of his arm and his innocence).
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