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

3.9 out of 5 stars 986 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: 5.2 x 1.1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (986 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #11,093 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
"Snow falling on Ceidars" was my first novel by David Guterson. As always when I read a book by (for me) an unknown author I am a little extra excited. Gutersons' "Snow falling on Ceidars" did not disappoint me.
The story opens in a courtroom. Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American, has been arrested and is on trial for the murder of a local San Piedro fisherman. The core story follows the trial of Miyamoto, but the book brings in so much more. We get an interracial love story, a war story, and an unsolved mystery. All this is gradually and slowly unwrapped as the story about the people of San Piedro Island is told. Guterson has purposely chosen flashback as a way to tell the story to the different characters. An experiment that works quite well!
History has always fascinated me, and the topic on how the Japanese Americans was treated during World War II was especially interesting. I found the background information very helpful in understanding why the characters interacted with each other the way they did.
In summary this is a well-written novel, with realistic, flawed, sympathetic characters easy to identify with. At times very hard to put down.
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Format: Paperback
I still find it difficult to believe that all of the most respected literary critics could be so wrong, but here I am, done with the book, and there is no doubt about it -- this is not at all the literary heavyweight that they had said it was.

Guterson's writing is elegant, I'll concede that -- but the book was more useful to me as a travelogue, taking me through the various seasons and forests/fields of a Northwestern island, than as a book of "truth". The treatment of racism in the book was incredibly superficial, as many readers have echoed. The Asian characters (I am Asian) were so stereotypical, particularly Hatsue with her outward tranquility and inward implacability (which dissolves inexplicably somewhere 2/3 through the book), Kabuo the incommunicable but virile man, wronged but wordless, of course, always wordless. All the Asians -- so silent and serious, no laughter, few tears, so resigned, and always faintly grieving. All of them, foreign and incomprehensible shadows. Ghosts, really. Guterson did such a poor job on Hatsue particuarly -- if he had gotten her right, the rest could've been dismissed as intentional ambiguity, but he didn't. It's almost tragic sometimes how uninspired his portraits of Hatsue are -- the endless descriptions of her exotic black hair, her serenity of movement, her beauty so imperturable and so still she could've been dead, or perhaps, she was. After the first half of the book, the woman didn't think anymore. She was just as inscrutable as her husband. And what's the point of reading about characters who are inscrutable, particularly when you have the nagging suspicion that they weren't just playing coy with you, playing at being an enigma, but that they were truly devoid of feeling, devoid of thought?
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