Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson will expand your reading repertoire. As a Seattle native, Guterson’s familiarity with Puget Sound and Bainbridge Island intensifies the descriptions of the unique ecosystems and diverse plant life including prairie, thickets, wetlands, native grasses, and wildflowers. Douglas fir, hemlock, cedar, pines, and other trees surround the beautiful San Piedro Island. Tireless, determined fishermen, women, and families exercised a code of honor in their work: fish canning industry, dairy, poultry, berry fields, and assorted crops. Witnessing the celebration at the annual strawberry festival highlights the collaboration of the fishers and farmers.

After dedicated, principled fisherman Carl Heine was found the victim of head trauma, Kazuo Miyamoto was charged with his murder. They were childhood friends and football teammates; nonetheless, evidence suggests foul play. Clouded by a land dispute between the two families, Kazuo’s responsible fishing practices and farming reputation do not alter any potential mistrust. Suspicion of Japanese Americans heightened after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Although many were second-generation citizens and acknowledged for their established work ethic and fishing and farming practices, they were forced into internment camps. War relocation haunted relationships when a community was exiled, while neighbors watched despite previous coexistence.

More than the compelling story of a mangled veteran tortured by the memory of killing Germans, Ishmael Chambers returned home to oversee his father’s newspaper and was respected for truthful reporting and poignant photography. His loyalty and deep feelings for Kazuo’s graceful, beautiful wife Hatsue intrigue the reader during Ishmael’s quest for facts about the accident. As children, they harvested strawberries, treasured the woodlands, and adored each other. Peace, privacy, security among the cedars, and the tranquility of colonnades provided sacred memories. Absent of society’s pressures and prejudices, the forest protected this young couple. “He loved humankind dearly…but disliked most human beings.”

This historical novel grips your heart and captivates your mind. If you embrace family and community, Snow Falling on Cedars weaves love, fear, deceit, war, drama, and an enchanting island into one story. Although nautical knowledge will ease reading, no maritime experience is necessary to imagine the powerful messages. The cruel kindness of the island affords residents a fresh life yet a fierce threat. The beauty yet peril of snow blanketing the cedars and the ice concealing the roads disrupted island life and the trial. The courtroom is a stark contrast to the energetic waterfront and serene woodlands. Trepidation reinforces the convictions of the fishermen, “No one harms a seagull,” and other beliefs that demonstrated respect for all life.

Former high school English teacher, Guterson, fully commands language with alliteration, imagery, symbolism, legend, and prose. As an experienced journalist, he incorporates details, legalities, and research into the lighthouse history, harbor life, nature, woodlands, and piscaries. Explored on various levels, “man’s inhumanity to man” remained a constant reminder of a racial divide. The “eye of evidence is in the eye of the beholder.” Guterson’s courtroom depiction symbolizes the serendipitous task of islanders influenced by bias to determine the truth which is more than guilt or innocence. His intense exploration of fundamental human themes demonstrates the value of retreating to nature to escape unfairness alienating islanders. Snow Falling on Cedars evokes thought, sheds light on a foggy situation, and perplexes the reader.

Guest post by Carmaine Ternes, Librarian, Author, Editor, Presenter

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