Author Biography David Guterson, the author of Snow Falling on Cedars, was born in 1956 in Seattle, Washington. He received his M.A. from the University of Washington, and learned many tips and lessons from a very influential person in his life, writer Charles Johnson. After receiving his M.A. he moved to Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound where he lived with his wife and children. While there, he taught English at a local high school and began writing for Sports Illustrated and Harper's magazine. Other than Snow Falling on Cedars, Guterson is also the author of a collection of short stories such as: The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind, and Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense. Guterson gives much credit to his father, Murray Guterson, a distinguished criminal defense, who gave him his inspiration to write Snow Falling on Cedars, which won such awards as the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award, along with recently being adapted to film.
Summary Snow Falling on Cedars is set on San Pedro Island off the coast of Washington in December of 1954. Nine years after World War II, Kabuo Miyamoto, a member of the Japanese-American community, has been put on trial for the murder of Carl Heine, a fellow fisherman and childhood friend. One night when Carl's boat ran out of power, Kabuo passed him on the Ship Channel and came to his aid, as a respectable fisherman would do. While Kabuo helped Carl to change his battery, Carl agreed to sell the land that Kabuo's family had been trying to recover since the end of the war, back to him at a reasonable price.
Carl Heine was found drifting that morning, with his body entangled in the net of his boat. While the death of Carl Heine initially appears accidental to the local police officers, bits of evidence found later on, such as the head wound that seemed to come from a Japanese "kendo"ÃÂ blow, Carl's blood found on Kabuo's wooden gaff, the different sized batteries, and the fact that Carl's mother cheated Kabuo's family out of land during the time of the Japanese relocation, seemed to put the blame towards innocent Kabuo Miyamoto.
Ishmael Chambers, the man who runs the local newspaper, finds a significant report in the local lighthouse on the second day of the trial. This report shows that a large freighter had become lost in the fog and passed through the Ship Channel in route of finding its course. Five minutes later, due to the rough waters, Carl fell off his boat and into the water hitting his head and becoming entangled in the net of his boat.
Ishmael now becomes the only person who knows the truth of Kabuo's innocence, but due to the fact that he still loves Kabuo's wife, Hatsue, who he had a secret love affair with during their adolescence, and wants to seek revenge on her after she had broken his heart, he contemplates on whether or not he wants to reveal his evidence to the court. Finally, Ishamel reveals his finding during the last minutes of the trial and the charges against Kabuo are dropped.
Important Characters Ishmael Chambers-Ishmael Chambers took over running the local newspaper after his father's death. During his adolescence, Ishmael and Hatsue had kept their love for one another a secret because of the Japanese and American family tension. When Hatsue's mother found out about their relationship, she ordered Hatsue to end what she had with Ishmael. Due to the fact that Hatsue had broken Ishmael's heart, and Ishmael still loved her, he contemplated on whether or not he should reveal the evidence he had found from the lighthouse regarding Carl's death.
Carl Heine-Carl Heine was a fisherman who lived on a strawberry field with his family. During World War II, his mother had sold the land that she had promised to Kabuo Miyamoto's family because of the relocation of the Japanese. When he returned from the war, it was up to him to decide whether or not he wanted to return the land that was promised back to Kabuo. One night while he loses power on his boat, Kabuo helps he to change a battery and he agrees to sell the land back to Kabuo for a reasonable sum. Later that night, Carl is found entangled in the net of his boat, dead.
Hatsue Imada-Hatsue married Kabuo and soon started a family before Kabuo had left for the war. Although she once had a strong love relationship with Ishmael she knew that both of their families would never accept the love that they shared for one another. When Hatsue writes to Ishmael and explains why she can no longer see him, she breaks his heart and neglects to speak with him for a while. During the trial, Ishmael and Hatsue see each other after a long time away from each other. After Ishmael lets Hatsue in on what evidence he has found, Hatsue thanks him greatly and is willing to help to do whatever it takes to get the charges dropped against her husband.
Kabuo Miyamoto-Kabuo is a fisherman who is married to Hatsue. He fights in World War II on the American sides in order to help the country in which he is now a part of. His family is cheated out of land that they had long worked for. Kabuo does all that he can to recapture his family's rightful land, and makes an agreement with Carl Heine. Kabuo is later accused of murdering Carl and is put on trial. At first Kabuo neglects to tell the truth of what really happened because he was scared that since he was Japanese the jury and the court would not believe him.
Symbols and Themes This novel has many symbols and themes that are revealed as the reader follows along. One of the first, and most important, symbols found in Snow Falling on Cedars is the snowstorm that is going on in San Pedro Island. The snow falling outside that begins to pile up represents the tension that is building up inside of the courtroom between two cultures and it's people. As the snow falling outside accumulates, the events that are arising during the trial begin to create a mounting tension. This tension can be harmful in the trial because it can hide what is the truth and create biased opinions within the courtroom.
A major theme that is understood throughout the whole novel is the theme of racism. On San Pedro Island, there is much tension between the Japanese and American inhabitants. During the trial there are many references to Kabuo being Japanese that are displayed. The reason for this is because the attorney wants the jury to base their decision on what Kabuo's face reveals, and not the evidence and facts that are put forth. For example, Alvin Hooks says, "Look into his eyes, consider his face, and ask yourselves what your duty is as citizens of this community."ÃÂ (Pg. 415) This statement clearly shows the racism that goes on even in a court of law where race should not matter only facts and evidence.
There were not only racism issues from the Americans towards the Japanese but from the Japanese towards the Americans also. When Hatsue's mother heard of the secret relationship Hatsue and Ishmael had been having, she immediately confronted Hatsue about it, and put a stop to it. Hatsue's family did not accept her relationship with Ishmael just because of the fact that they came from two different backgrounds.
Critical Opinion I feel that Snow Falling on Cedars is an exceptional novel that should be read and enjoyed by all. This novel talks about many of the issues that still arise in today's society such as: racism, prejudice, love, hate and revenge. This is the type of book that all types of readers can benefit from because it combines different genres, such as love and mystery, together to bring about a fantastic plot.
During the first few chapters, it was hard for me to stay focused because it explained certain things in too much detail. I like the type of books that get right to the point and do not wonder on about little details that are not important to the plot. After I got past the first few chapters, I had a hard time putting the novel down! The novel built up suspense fairly quickly and at most times I was eager to find out what was going to happen next.
In my opinion, the reader gets many points of view from different characters that help the story to evolve. By being put in the place of each character my feelings came alive for them, and I felt as though I was part of this story, and that I had actually been there. David Guterson did a great job in placing the reader in a position that helps them to discover the story as if they had actually been there.
I enjoyed Snow Falling on Cedars, and I have acquired knowledge about the history of our country, as well as how the people of our society acted towards many of our countries hardships, that I have rarely been introduced to. I would recommend Snow Falling on Cedars to anyone who is in need of a good book.