Snow Falling on Cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars

4.2 213
by David Guterson

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Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award

American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award

San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies.  But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his

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Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award

American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award

San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies.  But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder.  In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries—memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched.  Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense— one that leaves us shaken and changed.

"Haunting.... A whodunit complete with courtroom maneuvering and surprising turns of evidence and at the same time a mystery, something altogether richer and deeper."—Los Angeles Times

"Compelling...heartstopping. Finely wrought, flawlessly written."—The New York Times Book Review

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Editorial Reviews

The Barnes & Noble Review
December 1998

The New York Times Book Review declared Jonathan Harr's revealing true story, A Civil Action, "a page-turner. So rich and vivid that it becomes a good deal more than a simple, interesting case study." The critically acclaimed bestseller tells the true story of an obsessed young lawyer who gives up just about everything to fight two prestigious law firms and two of the nation's largest corporations on behalf of the families and citizens of Woburn, Massachusetts, whose loved ones died because they drank the water.

Harr has crafted a tale that demonstrates how truth can be more interesting than fiction. Describing a lawsuit that lasted nine years, A Civil Action reveals that even with the best lawyers and evidence on the victims' side, justice can be elusive, especially when it involves malfeasance by powerful corporations. Read how the unlikeliest of heroes emerges when a young, hotshot, Porsche-driving lawyer takes the case, initially with hopes of winning millions, and ends up nearly losing everything, including his sanity, as he is led to confront connected and powerful interests who will do anything to win.

A Civil Action is considered by many to be the best book ever written on the legal system.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Contemporaries Series
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5.17(w) x 8.01(h) x 1.06(d)
1080L (what's this?)

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At the intersection of Center Valley Road and South Beach Drive Ishmael spied, ahead of him in the bend, a car that had failed to negotiate the grade as it coiled around a grove of snow-hung cedars. Ishmael recognized it as the Willys station wagon that belonged to Fujiko and Hisao Imada; in fact, Hisao was working with a shovel at its rear right wheel, which had dropped into the roadside drainage ditch.

Hisao Imada was small enough most of the time, but he looked even smaller bundled up in his winter clothes, his hat pulled low and his scarf across his chin so that only his mouth, nose, and eyes showed. Ishmael knew he would not ask for help, in part because San Piedro people never did, in part because such was his character. Ishmael decided to park at the bottom of the grade beside Gordon Ostrom's mailbox and walk the fifty yards up South Beach Drive, keeping his DeSoto well out of the road while he convinced Hisao Imada to accept a ride from him.

Ishmael had known Hisao a long time. When he was eight years old he'd seen the Japanese man trudging along behind his swaybacked white plow horse: a Japanese man who carried a machete at his belt in order to cut down vine maples. His family lived in two canvas tents while they cleared their newly purchased property. They drew water from a feeder creek and warmed themselves at a slash pile kept burning by his children—girls in rubber boots, including Hatsue—who dragged branches and brought armfuls of brush to it. Hisao was lean and tough and worked methodically, never altering his pace. He wore a shoulder strap T-shirt, and this, coupled with the sharp-honed weapon at his belt, put Ishmael in mind of the pirates he'd read about in illustrated books his father had brought him from the Amity Harbor Public Library. But all of this was more than twenty years ago now, so that as he approached Hisao Imada in the South Beach Drive, Ishmael saw the man in another light: hapless, small in the storm, numb with the cold and ineffective with his shovel while the trees threatened to come down around him.

Ishmael saw something else, too. On the far side of the car, with her own shovel in hand, Hatsue worked without looking up. She was digging through the snow to the black earth of the cedar woods and throwing spadefuls of it underneath the tires.

Fifteen minutes later the three of them walked down the road toward his DeSoto. The Willys station wagon's rear right tire had been perforated by a fallen branch still wedged up under both axles. The rear length of exhaust pipe had been crushed, too. The car wasn't going anywhere—Ishmael could see that—but it took Hisao some time to accept this truth. With his shovel he'd struggled defiantly, as if the tool could indeed change the car's fate. After ten minutes of polite assistance Ishmael wondered aloud if his DeSoto wasn't the answer and persisted in this vein for five minutes more before Hisao yielded to it as an unavoidable evil. He opened his car door, put in his shovel, and came out with a bag of groceries and a gallon of kerosene. Hatsue, for her part, went on with her digging, saying nothing and keeping to the far side of the car, and throwing black earth beneath the tires.

At last her father rounded the Willys and spoke to her once in Japanese. She stopped her work and came into the road then, and Ishmael was granted a good look at her. He had spoken to her only the morning before in the second-floor hallway of the Island County Courthouse, where she'd sat on a bench with her back to an arched window just outside the assessor's office. Her hair had been woven then, as now, into a black knot against the nape of her neck. She'd told him four times to go away.

"Hello, Hatsue," said Ishmael. "I can give you a lift home, if you want."

"My father says he's accepted," Hatsue replied. "He says he's grateful for your help."

She followed her father and Ishmael down the hill, still carrying her shovel, to the DeSoto. When they were well on their way down South Beach Drive, easing through the flats along the salt water, Hisao explained in broken English that his daughter was staying with him during the trial; Ishmael could drop them at his house. Then he described how a branch had hurled down into the road in front of him; to avoid it he'd hit his brake pedal. The Willys had fishtailed while it climbed the snapped branch and nudged down into the drainage ditch.

Only once, driving and listening, nodding politely and inserting small exclamations of interest—"I see, I see, yes, of course, I can understand"—did Ishmael risk looking at Hatsue Miyamoto in the rectangle of his rearview mirror: a risk that filled all of two seconds. He saw then that she was staring out the side window with enormous deliberation, with intense concentration on the world outside his car—she was making it a point to be absorbed by the storm—and that her black hair was wringing wet with snow. Two strands had escaped from their immaculate arrangement and lay pasted against her frozen cheek.

"I know it's caused you trouble," Ishmael said. "But don't you think the snow is beautiful? Isn't it beautiful coming down?"

The boughs in the fir trees hung heavy with it, the fence rails and mailboxes wore mantles of it, the road before him lay filled with it, and there was no sign, anywhere, of people. Hisao Imada agreed that it was so—ah, yes, beautiful, he commented softly—and at the same moment his daughter turned swiftly forward so that her eyes met Ishmael's in the mirror. It was the cryptic look, he recognized, that she'd aimed at him fleetingly on the second floor of the courthouse when he'd tried to speak to her before her husband's trial. Ishmael still could not read what her eyes meant—punishment, sorrow, perhaps buried anger, perhaps all three simultaneously. Perhaps some sort of disappointment.

For the life of him, after all these years, he couldn't read the expression on her face. If Hisao wasn't present, he told himself, he'd ask her flat out what she was trying to say by looking at him with such detached severity and saying nothing at all. What, after all, had he done to her? What had she to be angry about? The anger, he thought, ought to be his own; yet years ago now the anger about her had finished gradually bleeding out of him and had slowly dried up and blown away. Nothing had replaced it, either. He had not found anything to take its place. When he saw her, as he sometimes did, in the aisles of Petersen's Grocery or on the street in Amity Harbor, he turned away from seeing her with just a little less hurry than she turned away from seeing him; they avoided one another rigorously. It had come to him one day three years before how immersed she was in her own existence. She'd knelt in front of Fisk's Hardware Center tying her daughter's shoelaces in bows, her purse on the sidewalk beside her. She hadn't known he was watching. He'd seen her kneeling and working on her daughter's shoes, and it had come to him what her life was. She was a married woman with children. She slept in the same bed every night with Kabuo Miyamoto. He had taught himself to forget as best he could. The only thing left was a vague sense of waiting for Hatsue—a fantasy—to return to him. How, exactly, this might be achieved he could not begin to imagine, but he could not keep himself from feeling that he was waiting and that these years were only an interim between other years he had passed and would pass again with Hatsue.

She spoke now, from the backseat, having turned again to look out the window. "Your newspaper," she said. That was all.

"Yes," answered Ishmael. "I'm listening."

"The trial, Kabuo's trial, is unfair," said Hatsue. "You should talk about that in your newspaper."

"What's unfair?" asked Ishmael. "What exactly is unfair? I'll be happy to write about it if you'll tell me."

She was still staring out the window at the snow with strands of wet hair pasted against her cheek. "It's all unfair," she told him bitterly. "Kabuo didn't kill anyone. It isn't in his heart to kill anyone. They brought in that sergeant to say he's a killer—that was just prejudice. Did you hear the things that man was saying? How Kabuo had it in his heart to kill? How horrible he is, a killer? Put it in your paper, about that man's testimony, how all of it was unfair. How the whole trial is unfair."

"I understand what you mean," answered Ishmael. "But I'm not a legal expert. I don't know if the judge should have suppressed Sergeant Maples's testimony. But I hope the jury comes in with the right verdict. I could write a column about that, maybe. How we all hope the justice system does its job. How we hope for an honest result."

"There shouldn't even be a trial," said Hatsue. "The whole thing is wrong, it's wrong"

"I'm bothered, too, when things are unfair," Ishmael said to her. "But sometimes I wonder if unfairness isn't . . . part of things. I wonder if we should even expect fairness, if we should assume we have some sort of right to it. Or if—"

"I'm not talking about the whole universe," cut in Hatsue. "I'm talking about people—the sheriff, that prosecutor, the judge, you. People who can do things because they run newspapers or arrest people or convict them or decide about their lives. People don't have to be unfair, do they? That isn't just part of things, when people are unfair to somebody."

"No, it isn't," Ishmael replied coldly. "You're right—people don't have to be unfair."

When he let them out beside the Imadas' mailbox he felt that somehow he had gained the upper hand—he had an emotional advantage. He had spoken with her and she had spoken back, wanting something from him. She'd volunteered a desire. The strain between them, the hostility he felt—it was better than nothing, he decided. It was an emotion of some sort they shared. He sat in the DeSoto and watched Hatsue trudge away through the falling snow, carrying her shovel on her shoulder. It occurred to him that her husband was going out of her life in the same way he himself once had. There had been circumstances then and there were circumstances now; there were things beyond anyone's control. Neither he nor Hatsue had wanted the war to come—neither of them had wanted that intrusion. But now her husband was accused of murder, and that changed things between them.

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Snow Falling on Cedars (SparkNotes Literature Guide Series) 4.1 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 208 reviews.
songcatchers More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Rocky123 More than 1 year ago
This is a good book. Great for history buffs. Suspense til the last page.
AK95 More than 1 year ago
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.
Dianasnookbook More than 1 year ago
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.
Hira_Hasnain_EnamoredSoul More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
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.
Guest More than 1 year ago
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.
BonitaBarb More than 1 year ago
This is an excellent read.  I received it from a friend in paperback and recently read it.  It takes you back to a time that many of us lived through but have little memory of the actual events.  I was born in 1943.  This takes us through the early 50's and shows what it was like to be of Japanese descent even though you were born in the U.S.A.  Learn how the Asians were treated from the time they immigrated to America.  It doesn't change, we treat our immigrants, legal and illegal terribly even today.  We need more stories on what they go through to get here and why.  The background of this story is important in so many ways.  The story is sad and beautiful.  I recommend it highly.    
Paris_11 More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this for school originally, and it's become my favorite novel. I read it at least once a year!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
A well written story of human nature, societal conventions, and the impact of cultural differences.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Goes off on could have been a lot shorter if it wasn't so bogged down in descriptions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
We sat down on the couch. He opened the book and begain reading. <P> "The Legend of the Snow Drop <br> A long time ago, there was a blizzard that triggered an avalanch. After the avalanch distroyed everything. A young girl was seemingly the only survivor. The young girl truged thro the snow. Then there was a glowing light coming from a spot in the snow. The young girl went over to the glowing spot. The light was coming from one snowflake. She gently picked up the snowflake. It was surprizingly warm," <P> (All I have time for! Sorry!) <P> ~ Rainbowfall
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I read this book a few years ago and absolutely loved it! Give it 6 stars!!!
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a good book; I enjoyed it very much
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Enjoyable book - makes you look into. your heart against preconceived prejudices we all inevitably hold within.