Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Book Review: Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Things to know up front...

Recommended to: historical fiction fans, court story fans

Setting: San Piedro Island (off the coast of Washington state) in the 1940s-50s (?)

Rating: 8.5/10

  • Plenty of profanity, including the f-word. In addition to this, there are several racial slurs directed at the Japanese.
  • Several instances of racism, prejudice, and oppression mostly in relation to Japanese Americans.
  • Quite a bit of sexual content. There are 5-10 instances of sex, varying from mildly descriptive to quite detailed. 
  • Much of the story has to do with the murder of a man. There are in-depth, completely revolting descriptions of his autopsy that, honestly, made me want to gork. 
  • There are a few flashbacks to WWII and many of them are very descriptive, disturbing, and gory. 
  • Overall, this should be read by mature readers only. In no way is this meant for children; I would recommend that this be read by those in their upper teens at the youngest. 

Snow Falling on Cedars follows the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American living on a small island off the coast of Washington. When Carl Heine (a man that purchased land that Kabuo's family used to own before they were interned during WWII) turns up dead and caught in the netting of his fishing boat, suspicion turns to Kabuo rather quickly. Snow Falling on Cedars, however, is about more than just a murder mystery: it's a finely-crafted and deeply layered novel full of prejudice, grudges, war, pride, love, suffering, and heartbreak.

The Positives

-The writing. Descriptive, but not too wordy, the author's style is the element in the story that sweeps you into the story and completely engrosses you. The vocabulary he uses is lovely, and thankfully, never ever obnoxious.

-The POV. The novel mostly sticks to three characters: Hatsue, Kabuo, and Ishmael (all described in third person), but it wanders to other minor characters, providing brief, but memorable snapshots of their lives. Guterson executes this beautifully, and has a way of subtly changing his writing to match the personality of each character he speaks of, which rocks.

-The historical content. There are a couple of atrocities that the U.S. as a nation has owned up to and educates its public on, such as slavery and the forced migrations of Native Americans (is that still the politically correct term?), but there are quite a few others left out, such as Japanese internment during WWII. I think it's great that the author drew attention to events that I--and I suspect many other people--knew very little about. The blatant prejudice and suspicion against Japanese Americans is heartbreaking and, for me, at least, infuriating and frustrating, but still made me thankful for how far we have come. 

-The unfurling of events. I loved the way that the story moved back and forth along time-lines, instead of dishing out all of the background knowledge, and then the current happenings of the story. It gave the novel a  memorable style and feel that carries over well between readings.

-The courtroom scenes. Is there anything more I can really say about this? They're just awesome.

The Negatives

-The ending. The rest of the novel felt so complete, so whole that when it's finale turned out the way it did, I felt rather astonished at the unsatisfying end. Something about it was too tidy and too rushed for my taste (even though those things seem to not go together).

-It can be confusing. I grew accustomed to the way that the story skipped back and forth in time, but I was a bit baffled by it in the beginning, and had to flip back to figure out the order of events.

-The beginning felt a little slow, but it was only the first few chapters. Eventually it picks up and finds a very nice rhythm.


 Honestly, it's a title that I was completely unfamiliar with when it was handed to me, and therefore, I was wary of it. I'm so pleased to say that it turned out to be a beautifully done, well-thought out novel that is one of the more emotionally involving novels that I've recently read. To me, it's a universal read that will be just as potent if you are 19 or 99! I could say more, but it would honestly just be a lot of different ways describing how wonderful it was, so I leave you with this: read it, read it, read it!

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