Snow Falling on Cedars
Author: David Guterson
Publisher: Bloomsbury (Modern Classics Edition)
Genre: Classic, Mystery
Blurb (as on Goodreads):
Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award in 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.
“The snowfall obliterated the borders between the fields and made Kabuo Miyamoto’s long-cherished seven acres indistinguishable from the land that surrounded them. All human claims to the landscape were superseded, made null and void by the snow. The world was one world, and the notion that a man might kill another over some small patch of it did not make sense.”
Snow falling on Cedars takes us into a mysterious world- San Piedro Island, where Americans and Japanese people stay, in harmony (kind of). Their chief occupation is fishing and hence, when a fisherman is found murdered under mysterious circumstances, the entire blame falls in the hands of Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese individual, whose family had a history of bad faith with the fisherman.
“To deny that there was this dark side of life would be like pretending that the cold of winter was somehow only a temporary illusion, a way station on the way to the higher “reality” of long, warm, pleasant summers. But summer, it turned out, was no more real than the snow that melted in wintertime.”
The plot thickens when all the pieces of evidence point us towards Mr. Miyamoto’s direction. The central plot is basically a courtroom drama where two extremely talented lawyers try to prove whether Mr. Miyamoto is innocent or not. During the trial, we are told a story that spans over at least two generations. The island has a past and a present, a violent past where people of different race try to co-exist and a present where the community is way more tolerant.
“The whites, you see, are tempted by their egos and have no means to resist. We Japanese, on the other hand, know our egos are nothing. We bend our egos, all of the time, and that is where we differ.”
We are told about the history of the important families of the island, love stories that did as well as did not reach a happy ending and a mystery that was sidelined because people with vendetta were winning. The Japanese who suffered so much during the World War II and the ones who fought as Americans just to prove their worth, all these events play an important role in shaping a community, and it’s people.
“Accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.”
There wasn’t a dull moment throughout the book, and at every chapter, there are mysteries revealed, not just related to the murder, but all people and how each one of them shares a past or a present.
With a thrilling, engrossing and addictive plot line, Gutterson paints us a picture that captures a multitude of events and issues.