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Snow Falling on Cedars

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Overview

On San Piedro, an island of rugged, spectacular beauty in Puget Sound, home to salmon fishermen and strawberry farmers, a Japanese-American fisherman stands trial, charged with coldblooded murder. The year is 1954, and the shadow of World War II, with its brutality abroad and internment of Japanese Americans at home, hangs over the courtroom. Ishmael Chambers, who lost an arm in the Pacific war and now runs the island newspaper inherited from his father, is among the journalists covering the trial - a trial that ...
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Snow Falling on Cedars

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Overview

On San Piedro, an island of rugged, spectacular beauty in Puget Sound, home to salmon fishermen and strawberry farmers, a Japanese-American fisherman stands trial, charged with coldblooded murder. The year is 1954, and the shadow of World War II, with its brutality abroad and internment of Japanese Americans at home, hangs over the courtroom. Ishmael Chambers, who lost an arm in the Pacific war and now runs the island newspaper inherited from his father, is among the journalists covering the trial - a trial that brings him close, once again, to Hatsue Miyomoto, the wife of the accused man and Ishmael's never-forgotten boyhood love. Hatsue and Ishmael, in the years before the war came between them, had dug clams together, picked strawberries in San Piedro's verdant fields, and passed long hours in the secrecy of a giant hollow cedar tree. Now, as a heavy snowfall surrounds and impedes the progress of Kabuo Miyomoto's trial, they and the other participants must come to a reckoning with the past, with culture, nature, and love, and with the possibilities of the human will. Both suspenseful and beautifully crafted, Snow Falling on Cedars portrays the psychology of a community, the ambiguities of justice, the racism that persists even between neighbors, and the necessity of individual moral action despite the indifference of nature and circumstance.
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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
First-novelist Guterson presents a multilayered courtroom drama set in the aftermath of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII. (Oct.)
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Product Details

Meet the Author

David Guterson
David Guterson is a reader’s writer, welcoming his audience into a story from the first sentence. The rich landscapes of the Pacific Northwest are home to many of Guterson’s works of fiction, serving as emotional backdrops for deeply felt stories about the ways we deal with the most universal of questions.

Biography

Like many great writers before him, David Guterson draws on the rich local culture of the Pacific Northwest for inspiration in creating unforgettable characters and settings. Guterson credits many influences on his writing, beginning with his father, Murray Guterson, a distinguished criminal defense lawyer: His father's example taught him first and foremost to choose a career he would love, which also meant making positive contributions to the world.

Guterson was intrigued by the narrative of his father's cases. He often sat in on trials, but never felt the urge to become an attorney. When he started college, after one week in a creative writing class, he decided to become a writer. He eventually studied under Charles Johnson (author of Middle Passage), developing his ideas about the moral function of literature, and concluded that it is the obligation of writers to present moral questions for reflection.

As Guterson honed his writing skills, he investigated a variety of jobs that would afford him the time to practice his craft. He finally chose to become an English teacher, mainly because he wanted to surround himself with great books and authors. He moved to Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, teaching at the local high school, writing short stories, and freelancing as a journalist for Sports Illustrated and Harper's magazine.

During his years as a teacher, Guterson discovered another major influence in To Kill a Mockingbird. "No other book had such an enormous impact [on me]" he has said of Harper Lee's splendid Southern classic. "I read it 20 times in 10 years and it never got old, only richer, deeper and more interesting." He admits freely to borrowing many of the novel's structural and thematic elements for his own 1994 tour de force, Snow Falling on Cedars.

Although it was not his first book (he had previously published a collection of short stories and a treatise on home schooling), there is no denying that Snow Falling on Cedars -- ten years in the making and a true labor of love -- put Guterson on the literary map. Set in 1954 on an island off the coast of Washington State, the novel tells the intertwined stories of an interracial love affair and a murder trial that divides a community still haunted by its shameful wartime past. Critics responded ecstatically, calling it "haunting" (L.A. Times), "compelling...heartstopping" (The N.Y. Times Book Review), and "luminous" (Time magazine). The book went on to win the 1995 Pen/Faulkner Award; and the following year, Guterson was named to Granta's list of Best Young American Novelists.

Far from prolific, Guterson writes slowly and with great deliberation, averaging a book every four to five years. Blessed with almost preternatural descriptive skills, he is known as a writer's writer, polishing sentences to pristine perfection and creating stories of elegiac grace. He is disarmingly candid about the difficulties of his craft, claiming that each literary endeavor brings with it a paralyzing fear of failure that slows the process even further. "It doesn't matter who you are, how many awards you've won, how popular you are, or how much critical acclaim you've had," he has said. "When it comes time to sit down and write the next book, you're deathly afraid that you're not up to the task." Fortunately for his many fans, Guterson's misgivings seem totally unfounded!

Good To Know

When he won the 1995 Pen/Faulkner award for Snow Falling on Cedars, Guterson quickly recognized the reclusive Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird for his success. He wrote to Lee asking her to come to the award ceremony in Washington, D.C., but being a highly private woman, she didn't attend.

Snow Falling on Cedars was adapted for a 1999 film of the same title, directed by Scott Hicks and starring Ethan Hawke. The movie received an Academy Award nomination for cinematography.

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    1. Hometown:
      Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound
    1. Date of Birth:
      May 4, 1956
    2. Place of Birth:
      Seattle, Washington
    1. Education:
      M.A., University of Washington

Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 209 )
Rating Distribution

5 Star

(100)

4 Star

(66)

3 Star

(26)

2 Star

(12)

1 Star

(5)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 209 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 25, 2008

    more from this reviewer

    beautifully atmospheric...

    Snow Falling on Cedars is a beautifully atmospheric love story/murder mystery. It takes place on San Piedro Island off the Pacific Coast. The story alternates from the trial of a Japanese American on trial for murder in 1954 to the background stories of the relevant characters leading up to WWII and after. Snow Falling on Cedars brings up questions of loyalty, racism and forgiveness. The mood of the novel matches it's scenery, dark and stormy. The love stories are passionate and emotional. The writing is beautifully descriptive. David Guterson brings the island of San Piedro and it's inhabitants vividly to life in a novel I'll not soon forget.

    15 out of 16 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted September 7, 2012

    A great lesson in American racial intolerance wrapped in a love story that is ageless.

    For those born after WWII this book explores the Japanese experience of the camps. I would recommend this book to young adults and high school students. It is well written and a pleasure to read.

    6 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 30, 2012

    Recommended

    A good book that starts slow but has deliberate plot and character development. Great care is taken to give extensive background and setting to a decent story. Issues of lost love, racism, fear and intolerance are at the forefront with an ending that is satisfying, if not surprising. A good read.

    6 out of 7 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted September 21, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    An Achievement

    A historical tragedy is the backdrop of this murder mystrey involving a Japanese man and a fisherman in Washington. An entire cast of characters are created and they all have depth to them. The scenes of war are descriptive and not over the top violent.
    The pacing of the story is in particular what makes this novel so memorable; the book keeps you completly intune with the mystrey of a man's death while you're introduced to the towns people.

    The great fault of the book is it's too long. Where was the editor? The scenary descriptions were beautiful and the subtle metaphors are appreciated but the book tries the patience of the reader. Although beautiful, there are certain spots where it is okay to skim.

    5 out of 6 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 20, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Snow Falling On Cedars - A Review

    It is impossible to deduce, by reading this book, that this could be author David Guterson's first attempt at fiction. His writing is fluid, his descriptions of the scenery surrounding the characters in the story transport you into the world of the characters, and his characterization is absolutely on-point.

    The book is narrated by Ishmael Chambers, who is a reporter from the only newspaper of the San Piedro Island, and it begins in a courtroom. The reader bears witness to the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto, who is on trial for the murder of a local fisherman. The attendees of the trial, the local towns people, are either strawberry farmers, of local fisherman. Weaving in and out of the mystery of Kabuo's trial, is the story of Hatsue, who is now Kabuo's wife, and Ishmael, who was once in love with Hatsue.

    We and transported back to the days of World War II via the memories of Ishmael, and this is where the story truly unfolds. We learn of racism, prejudice, love and two young hearts torn asunder by the norms of the world. It is Guterson's meticulous and extremely detailed description of the dynamics between these characters that truly make this novel such a marvel to read. This novel was undoubtedly one of the most interesting and engrossing novels I have ever read in my life. I would highly recommend it to history lovers, and mystery lovers as well, and those who appreciate romance of the real and pragmatic kind.

    4 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 1, 2012

    Recommend.

    This is a good book. Great for history buffs. Suspense til the last page.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2012

    Extremely thematic, it is a story that can suit anyone. Finely w

    Extremely thematic, it is a story that can suit anyone. Finely written; poetic, and wrought with tragedy, the book does a good job of keeping the reader thinking and feeling. It teaches you about love, loss, and injustice--and at the same time, it reminds us all that even though bad things happen, humans can control what they make of a situation, and it is the "chambers of the human heart" that make up the rest of the world created by circumstance.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 28, 2011

    more from this reviewer

    Interesting history

    This book was written very well. It is about Piedro Island off Pugent Sound in the 50s. It is the first island murder trial in 28 years. It has the history of the Japanese internment during WWII and details of the islanders and their habits, a interracial love story and drama.

    It wasn't a book that I couldn't put down, but enjoyed learning the history of the islanders and Japanese immigrants.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 30, 2014

    Great story

    I've had this book for a long time. Had I known how good it was I would have read it a long time ago. It has everything I enjoy in a good book: history, mystery, romance, and characters you care about. As others said some descriptions were a bit lengthy. But I didn't mind. I could just smell the cedars and the strawberry fields!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 29, 2013

    There are a couple of main characters in the book. One character

    There are a couple of main characters in the book. One character is Kabuo, who is on trial for the murder of Carl Heine, another character is Carl who only appears in flashbacks from the moments when he was alive, Ishmael who is Hatsue’s, Kabuo’s present wife, young non- Jap lover. All of the characters are unique and different in their own way. Kabuo feels a lot of guilt throughout the story for killing Germans in the war. I find it amazing how Kabuo accepts his trial and death sentence as fairness for the murders he committed while in the war. He stands for what he believes in. Though Carl is dead for most of the book, he still has a major role in the story. You get to learn a little about Carl and his past. Hatsue seems to be torn between loving a white man or a Japanese man. She knows that she can never love Ishmael no matter how much she wants to. Ishmael has an interesting past after being rejected by Hatsue and being in World War 2. He seems to just sulk around the island after losing an arm in battle and being rejected by the one he loves. The main conflict in this book is external. It is all about the trial for Carl’s death. One example to the rising action is when Art found a fishing gaff with blood on it. When he got it tested, he found out that it was Carl’s blood. At this point all of the facts are showing that Kabuo is guilty but then he tells his own side of the story. He said that Carl cut his palm and that is how the blood got onto the gaff. Now we don’t know what to believe. Did Kabuo kill Carl?
    I liked this book for many reasons. One reason was the detail in the authors writing. The author made every little detail noticeable which made the story very vivid. In the quote, “San Piedro had too a brand of verdant beauty that inclined its residents toward the poetical. Enormous hills, soft green with cedars, rose and fell in every direction”, you can just imagine that sight in your head with the descriptive words that he used. What I disliked about the book was how it started out pretty slow. All main action happened a little later in the book around chapter 17. Lastly, what I also liked about the book was that it was interesting. There was always something would keep you interested like how Ishmael and Hatsue kept their love for each other a secret for so long. There will constantly be something there to pull you in. I would recommend this book because it’s not an ordinary story. There’s an interesting plot, conflict, and overall it is a really good book.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 15, 2010

    a simple masterpiece

    Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson is a beautiful, compelling story published in September of 1994 by Knopt Publishing. Although this novel is portrayed as a mystery or a suspense thriller, its true beauty lies with the emotions of the characters and the relationships they share. This novel takes place on a small, quiet island located in Puget Sound. It is set during and after the second World War. The narrator of the story is a local newspaper publisher, Ishmael Chambers. Most of the character's features and colors are depicted by Chambers's flashbacks of life in the neighborhood before and after the second World War as well as life before the murder trial began. This forms a love story, a war tale, and a mystery as well. When a local fisherman is found suspiciously dead one morning in his fishing nets, a Japanese man named Kabuo Miyamoto is arrested on account of first degree murder. This brings up many issues with the islanders and is a test of true human faith, compassion, and forgiveness.
    I would highly recommend this novel to any reader in search of a novel with deeper meaning under the surface. To read this novel to its highest worth the reader must be in search of much more than if Kabuo Miyamoto is guilty or innocent. Reluctant readers would more than likely become bored with this read and readers under sixteen might not grasp the novel's true meaning. I would say this novel compares most to Tim O'Brien's novel In the Lake of the Woods simply because both novels are constructed of out of order flashbacks that all come back to the present in the end.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 11, 2010

    My favorite Novel

    I read this for school originally, and it's become my favorite novel. I read it at least once a year!

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted October 28, 2009

    Didn't finish it

    Reading is my passion as a pastime. I couldn't get through this book! I started and stopped many times and then just gave it away. I didn't care about the charachters and I didn't think the plot kept my attention. Maybe that would have changed if I continued reading, but If a book doesn't grab me by 1/4 of the way into it, I let it go.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2009

    Good in some parts...

    I read this novel in high school and although it was more interesting than most of the novels we read, I was not pleased with all of the sexual innuendos and don't think that this is necessary in books to be read and analyzed in school.

    1 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 30, 2008

    Went 'overboard' with description, but overall a good book

    Geez, I felt like I completely skimmed through parts of this book but was still right where I left off. You just want to yell at certain times...'WHAT DOES THIS HAVE TO DO WITH ANYTHING?' The author really gets carried away with description all over the place. But in the end the plot is incredibly strong and believable. Characters are lovable and relatable which is huge. Overall worth the read.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted July 12, 2014

    Lish

    I read this book a few years ago and absolutely loved it! Give it 6 stars!!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

    RACES

    :3

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  • Anonymous

    Posted May 11, 2014

    Game ideas

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 12, 2014

    thought provoking story

    This is a good book; I enjoyed it very much

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 28, 2014

    EXCELLENT!

    Enjoyable book - makes you look into. your heart against preconceived prejudices we all inevitably hold within.

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