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Book Review: Snow Falling on Cedars

A Bookstagram friend of mine @direads was kind enough to send me a copy of Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson. Then a few of us decided to do a buddy read. When I learned it was about a Japanese-American being (wrongly) accused of a murder mostly due to his ethnicity, I agreed in a heartbeat. A post- World War 2 story that centers around Asians, albeit non-Koreans, I said YES!

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Snow Falling on Cedars takes place shortly after WW2 in San Pedro island (a fictional island that is to be near the state of Washington coast. The main plot is about Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American who is accused of killing a fellow fisherman Carl Heine who is of German descent. The book follows the trial of this so-called murder which happens shortly after WW2, thus when most Americans still feel anti-Japanese. Covering this murder case is Ishmael Chambers, our main protagonist who fought against the Japanese and lost an arm. Ishmael is a bit biased when covering this case due to his hatred towards the Japanese. We learn the hatred he has towards Japanese people was mainly because his teenage lover Hatsue (Japanese) ended their relationship. Though Hatsue had mutual feelings for Ishmael, she ended it knowing the world would not accept them, especially herself, as she is Japanese. Shortly after Pearl Harbor, Hatsue and her family are forced to enter an internment camp. However, we learn Ishmael never fell out of love with Hatsue. It’s also important to know that Hatsue is the wife the offender, Kabuo Miyamoto, the murderer of Carl Heine.

If you had to ask me to define Snow Falling on Cedars with one word, it would be prejudice. Prejudice is prevalent on San Peidor island. Prejudice due to differences in ethnicity, whites vs. Japanese, seems to be the core of the story.  Japanese-Americans become the victims of prejudice after Pearl Harbor which creates racial tension on a mostly quiet and peaceful island. Although, prejudice between different ethnicity is the core of the story, it is not just limited to race. Fishermen and farmers dislike Ishmael Chambers because he is an intellect.  I found it interesting that they do not trust him because he makes his living through words and not his hands. Their differences create biased views which then creates pride (superiority) which creates prejudices which then creates contempt. I learned that just as much as LOVE can be taught, HATE can also be taught.

“The counsel for the state has proceeded on the assumption that you will be open to an argument based on prejudice. He has asked you to look closely at the face of the defendant, presuming that because the accused man is of Japanese descent you will see an enemy there. After all, it is not so long since our country was at war with the Empire of the Rising Sun and its formidable, well-trained soldiers. You all remember the newsreels and war films. You all recall the horrors of those years; Mr. Hooks is counting on that. He is counting on you to act on passions best left to a war of ten years ago. He is counting on you to remember this war and to see Kabuo Miyamoto as somehow connected with it. And ladies and gentlemen, let us recall that Kabuo Miyamoto is connected with it. He is a much-decorated first lieutenant of the United States Army who fought for this country – the United States – in the European theater. If you see in his face a lack of emotion, if you see in him a silent pride, it is the pride and hollowness of a veteran of war who has returned home to this. He has returned to find himself the victim of prejudice – in the country he fought to defend.’

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Overall what do I think of the book as a whole? Though I LOVED the main plot and the characters, and  I took away valuable lessons from it, it was extremely difficult to get into! The writing was too descriptive and there were too many details making the book unnecessarily long. I imagine if I had met the author in real life, he would be a talker. (For example, I did not find it necessary to learn of all the odd jobs Ishmael once held.) ? Also, there are too many backstories, it is easy to get lost. The main characters are Ishmael, Kabuo, and Hatsue. But we learn and must read of too many side characters and their own individual stories. It’s easy to get side-tracked. I think the author could’ve proven his point using half the words he used. “Prejudice is wrong.” Because I found this book to be too wordy, I later opted for the audio book version, which was much better than the physical book. Due to the subject matter, moral of the story, and the lessons that can be learned from this book, I still give it a 4, if “read” through the audio version.

If you have read this book, let me know your thoughts!

Questions:

  1. Carl Heine was of German descent. His mother was from Germany. So, why did the San Peidro community have less hatred towards him and his family? Germany as well as Japan were both considered enemies after WW2, and both fought for America. So, why were they treated differently? Did it really boil down to being white or non-white?

“I’m an American, Kabuo cut in. Just like you or anybody. Am I calling you a Nazi, you big Nazi bastard? I killed men who looked just like you – pig-fed German bastards. I’ve got their blood on my soul, Car, and it doesn’t wash off very easily. So don’t you talk to me about Japs, you big Nazi son of a bi*ch.” – Kabuo Miyamoto

2. The sexual scenes especially extremely detailed and explicit. One of the reasons why Snow Falling on Cedars used be either a banned book or a challenged book in schools. One of our fellow buddy reader (@the_word_nerdess) asked if sexual content is more graphic when written by male authors opposed to female authors?

  • Title: Snow Falling on Cedars
  • Author: David Guterson
  • Publisher: Vintage Books
  • Rate:
    • 3.4/5 (Book)
    • 4/5 (Audiobook)
  • Buy on Amazon :$9.80
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