Snow Falling on Cedars

Essay by reekosbabygurlHigh School, 12th gradeA+, December 2003

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Context: David Guterson was born in Seattle in 1956, and has spent nearly his entire life in Washington, in the area around Puget Sound. After receiving undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Washington, he taught high school English on Bainbridge Island near Seattle, writing at the same time for Sports Illustrated and Harper's Magazine. Guterson also published a collection of short stories called The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind and the nonfiction work Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense. He and his wife, Robin, have homeschooled all four of their children.

Guterson wrote Snow Falling on Cedars over the span of ten years while he was teaching, spending the early morning hours writing. The novel ranks as one of the most popular recent literary novels in the United States; it has been a surprise bestseller, with well over one million copies in print. The novel won the PEN / Faulkner Award in 1995, and its success allowed Guterson to quit teaching and write full time.

In 1999, the same year a major film adaptation of Snow Falling on Cedars opened, Guterson published a second novel, East of the Mountains, also set in the Pacific Northwest.

Guterson wrote Snow Falling on Cedars based on his personal experiences in the Pacific Northwest and eight years of research. He portrays the fictional community of San Piedro, a culturally and physically isolated island in Puget Sound. The novel concerns the trial of a Japanese-American man accused of killing a white fisherman and explores the racial tensions that simmer under the surface of the outwardly peaceful, even sleepy, island.

Japanese-Americans, like their fictional counterparts in Guterson's novel, were often victims of prejudice during World War II. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor in 1941, the United States government ordered the internment...