I have to admit, when I first started reading this book, I had a problem with trying to stay awake: I found the writing dry. Then slowly as characters were introduced, a mystery started to unfold, and tension between neighbors rose, I could not put the novel down. Whether it was the vivid descriptions of the snow banks, or the emotional accounts of the townspeople, David Guterson?s novel, Snow Falling on Cedars is a true piece of literary art. Snow Falling on Cedars is the fictional account of a Japanese immigrant, Kabuo Miyamoto who is on trial for the murder of a fisherman, Carl Heines. The majority of the residents of San Piedro have already found Kabuo guilty simply because of his race, physical stature, and history as a soldier. Guterson weaves this relatively simple tale through the eyes of many people giving points of view that are sometimes lost in stories of prejudice, thus creating a complex story where one finds themselves simplifying with every party involved. By doing this, Guterson establishes an emotional connection between the readers and the characters.
The characters, although physically different, are very similar in that they don?t trust anyone who is different than they are. For instance, Carl Heine?s mother always believed that Kabuo was glaring at her. She felt that he was sneaky and was going to try and steal away her land. Through this statement, we see how some of the white residents feel about their neighbors from the Far East. Guterson also makes it known that the older Japanese do not trust the White?s either when we read the conversation between Hatsue and her mother. Hatsue?s mother tells her that the whites are evil and deceitful and will try and take away her purity. By writing these conversations, Guterson shows us that a lot of anxiety is built between different cultures when they do not understand each other.
Snow Falling on Cedars has found a place in my heart. Up until the last chapter I was convinced that this story was just a cheap rip-off of ?To Kill A Mockingbird?, yet in the last chapter justice is served, and an innocent man walks away. This is one of the main reasons I liked this book. I identified with the characters, I established a connection, while the whole time hoping they would do the right thing, and as we know, they do not let me down. Ishmael comes to the Miyamoto family with his news about the freighter, and they approach the sheriff with it. I was a little worried at this point that Ishmael was going to remain bitter about loosing Hatsue, but as was my initial feeling he did do the right thing. I think that was one of the major themes that this book was portraying, although people are different and have very strong conflicting emotions, we are all humanitarians and we will do the right thing.
I feel this book ties in well with the ?Washington State History? class. One can read about Washington?s high amount of trees, yet one cannot appreciate them nearly as well as I did when reading Snow Falling on Cedars. Snow Falling on Cedars had a certain charm to it, something I connected with as a long time resident of this State. For instance, when Ishmael is making his way to his mother?s house, and he is describing the chaos that the snow has created, ?Looking out past the windshield wipers Ishmael saw billions of snowflakes falling in long tangents, driven southward, the sky shrouded and furious. The wind propelled the snow against the side of barns and homes, and Ishmael could hear it whistling through the wing window?s rubber molding, which had been loose now for many years.?(320) I am reminded of my days growing up in the Cispus Valley where scenes like this were frequent in the winter months. The strawberry farms are another good example. Some of the descriptions that Guterson used to capture the beauty of these fields were as if they were mine. I remember working summer jobs in strawberry fields in Orting and the long aisles of strawberries were indeed quite beautiful and did have a great aroma.
Perhaps the most important part of Snow Falling on Cedars is the descriptions of the Japanese Internment Camp. Maybe this is my fault, however I like to consider myself well in tune with history, but I had no idea how bad the Japanese were treated. To think, while we were in Germany fighting against the evils of the Nazis and their treatment of the Jews that the whole country found disgusting, we were guilty of the same thing. After reading this book I was driving to my sisters house, which happens to be right across the street from the Puyallup Fair Grounds, and it sent a shiver up my spine. Every year thousands of people go there and play carnival games and pet the horses, yet they have no idea that people were forced to sleep in these stables.
Snow Falling on Cedars is, quite simply, one of the greatest works of modern literature that I have read. It captures the beauty of the Northwest, the lust of adolescent love, and the ugly face of racism in us all. Snow Falling on Cedars fits in well with Washington State History on a few levels. We talked about