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 strawberriesmemories 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
About the Author
David Guterson is the author of the novels East of the Mountains, Our Lady of the Forest, The Other, Ed King, and Snow Falling on Cedars, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award; a story collection, The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind; and Family Matters: Why Homeschooling Makes Sense. He has three forthcoming books: a memoir, Descent, from Vintage in 2013; a new story collection, Problems with People, from Knopf in 2014; and a book of poems, Songs for a Summons, from Lost Horse Press in 2014. He lives in Washington State.
Hometown:Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound
Date of Birth:May 4, 1956
Place of Birth:Seattle, Washington
Education:M.A., University of Washington
Read an Excerpt
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 childrengirls in rubber boots, including Hatsuewho 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 anywhereIshmael could see thatbut 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 carshe was making it a point to be absorbed by the stormand 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 soah, yes, beautiful, he commented softlyand 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 meantpunishment, 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 Hatsuea fantasyto 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 killerthat 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 peoplethe 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 rightpeople don't have to be unfair."
When he let them out beside the Imadas' mailbox he felt that somehow he had gained the upper handhe 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 feltit 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 comeneither of them had wanted that intrusion. But now her husband was accused of murder, and that changed things between them.
What People are Saying About This
Whether in truth or fiction, I have never read a more compelling chronicle of litigation.
Reading Group Guide
The discussion topics, author biography, historical material, and bibliography that follow are meant to enhance your group's reading of David Guterson's Snow Falling on Cedars. We hope that they will provide you with new ways of looking atand talking abouta novel that has been widely praised for its eloquent dramatization of themes of love, justice, racism, community, and conscience. These ideas arise organically from the book's suspenseful story of a murder trial, its evocation of a lost love, and its brooding, poetically nuanced portraits of character and place.
1. Snow Falling on Cedars opens in the middle of Kabuo Miyamoto's trial. It will be pages before we learn the crime of which he has been accused or the nature of the evidence against him. What effect does the author create by withholding this information and introducing it in the form of flashbacks? Where else in the narrative are critical revelations postponed? How is this novel's past related to its fictional present?
2. The trial functions both as this novel's narrative frame and as its governing metaphor. As we follow it, we are compelled to ask larger questions about the nature of truth, guilt, and responsibility. How does the author interweave these two functions? Which characters are aware that what is at stake is more than one man's guilt?
3. When the trial begins, San Piedro is in the midst of a snowstorm, which continues throughout its course. What role does snow playboth literally and metaphoricallyin the book? Pay particular attention to the way in which snow blurs, freezes, isolates, and immobilizes, even as it holds out the promise of an "impossible winter purity" [p. 8]. How does nature shape this novel?
4. Guterson divides his island setting into four zones: the town of Amity Harbor; the sea; the strawberry fields; and the cedar forest. What actions take place in these different zones? Which characters are associated with them? How does the author establish a different mood for each setting?
5. In his first description of Carl Heine [pp. 14-16], Guterson imparts a fair amount of what is seemingly background information: We learn about his mother's sale of the family strawberry farm; about Carl's naval service in World War II; and about his reticence. We learn that Carl is considered "a good man." How do these facts become crucial later on, as mechanisms of plot, as revelations of the dead man's character, and as clues to San Piedro's collective mores? Where else does the author impart critical information in a casual manner, often "camouflaging" it amid material that will turn out to have no further significance? What does this method suggest about the novel's sense of the meaningfulabout the value it assigns to things that might be considered random or irrelevant?
6. When Carl's body is dredged from the water, the sheriff has to remind himself that what he is seeing is a human being. While performing the autopsy, however, Horace Whaley forces himself to think of Carl as "the deceased...a bag of guts, a sack of parts" [p. 54]. Where else in Snow Falling on Cedars are people depersonalizeddetached from their identitieseither deliberately or inadvertently? What role does depersonalization play within the novel's larger scheme?
7. What material evidence does the prosecution produce in arguing Kabuo's guilt? Did these bits of information immediately provoke the investigators' suspicions, or only reinforce their preexisting misgivings about Carl's death? Why might they have been so quick to attribute Carl's death to foul play? How does the entire notion of a murder trialin which facts are interpreted differently by opposing attorneysfit into this book's thematic structure?
8. Ishmael suffers from feelings of ambivalence about his home and a cold-blooded detachment from his neighbors. Are we meant to attribute these to the loss of his arm or to other events in his past? How is Ishmael's sense of estrangement mirrored in Hatsue, who as a teenager rebels against her mother's values and at one point declares, "I don't want to be Japanese" [p. 201]? To what extent do Kabuo and Carl suffer from similar feelings? How does this condition of transcendental homelessness serve both to unite and to isolate the novel's characters?
9. What significance do you ascribe to Ishmael's name? What does Guterson's protagonist have in common with the narrator of Moby-Dick, another story of the sea?
10. What role has the San Piedro Review played in the life and times of its community? How has Ishmael's stewardship of the paper differed from his father's? In what ways does he resemble his fatherof whom his widow says, "He loved humankind dearly and with all his heart, but he disliked most human beings" [p. 36]? What actions of Ishmael's may be said to parallel the older man's?
11. Ishmael's experience in World War II has cost him an arm. In that same war Horace Whaley, the county coroner, lost his sense of effectiveness, when so many of the men he was supposed to care for died. How has the war affected other characters in this book, both those who served and those who stayed home?
12. Guterson tells us that "on San Piedro the silent-toiling, autonomous gill-netter became the collective image of the good man" [p. 38]. Thus, Carl's death comes to signify the death of the island's ideal citizen: he represents a delayed casualty of the war in which so many other fine young men were killed. Yet how productive does the ideal of silent individualism turn out to be? To what extent is Carl a casualty of his self-sufficiency? What other characters in this novel adhere to a code of solitude?
13. Kabuo and Hatsue also possessand are at times driven bycertain values. As a young girl, Hatsue is taught the importance of cultivating stillness and composure in order "to seek union with the Greater Life" [p. 83]. Kabuo's father imparts to him the martial codes of his ancestors. How do these values determine their behavior, and particularly their responses to internment, war, and imprisonment? How do they clash with the values of the Anglo community, even as they sometimes resemble them?
14. Racism is a persistent theme in this novel. It is responsible for the internment of Kabuo, Hatsue, and their families, for Kabuo's loss of his land, and perhaps for his indictment for murder. In what ways do the book's Japanese characters respond to the hostility of their white neighbors? How does bigotry manifest itself in the thoughts and behavior of characters like Etta Heinewhose racism is keenly ironic in view of her German originsArt Moran, and Ishmael himself? Are we meant to see these characters as typical of their place and time?
15. Although almost all the novel's white characters are guilty of racism, only one of themEtta Heineemerges unsympathetically. How do her values and motives differ from those of other San Piedrans? How is her hostility to the Japanese related to her distaste for farming? To what extent are Guterson's characters defined by their feelings for their natural environment?
16. Ishmael's adolescent romance with Hatsue has been the defining fact of his life, its loss even more wounding than the loss of his arm. Yet when Hatsue first remembers Ishmael, it is only as a "boy" [p. 86] and her recollection of their first kiss is immediately supplanted by the memory of her wedding night with Kabuo. How else does Guterson contrast Hatsue's feelings for these two men? (Note that Hatsue's feelings for both Ishmael and her husband become clear in the course of making love.) What does the disparity between Hatsue's memories and Ishmael's suggest about the nature of love? Where else in this novel do different characters perceive the same events in radically different waysand with what consequences?
17. In choosing Kabuo, Hatsue acknowledges "the truth of her private nature" [p. 89]. That choice implies a paradox. For, if Kabuo is a fellow nisei, he is also rooted in the American earth of San Piedro's strawberry fields. How is this doublenessbetween Japanese and Americanexpressed elsewhere in Snow Falling on Cedars?
18. Ishmael's attraction to Hatsue is closely connected to a yearning for transcendence, as indicated by their early conversation about the ocean. Ishmael says, "It goes forever," while Hatsue insists, "It ends somewhere" [p. 97]. Typically, it is Ishmael who wishes to dissolve boundaries, Hatsue who keeps reasserting them, as when she gently withholds the embrace that Ishmael so desperately wants. What limits might Ishmael wish to transcend, even as a boy? Does he ever manage to do so? Does Snow Falling on Cedars hold the promise of transcendence for its characters or at best offer them a reconciliation with their limits?
19. One way that Guterson interweaves his novel's multiple narrative strands is through the use of parallelism: Ishmael spies on Hatsue; so does Kabuo. The two men are similarly haunted by memories of the war. Both Kabuo and Carl Heine turn out to be dissatisfied fishermen who yearn to return to farming. Where else in this novel does the author employ this method, and to what effect?
20. What is the significance of the novel's last sentence: "Accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart"?
On Monday, December 21st, barnesandnoble.com welcomed Jonathan Harr to discuss A CIVIL ACTION.
Moderator: Welcome, Jonathan Harr! Thank you for taking the time to join us online this evening. How are you doing tonight?
Jonathan Harr: I'm doing fine, looking forward to this chat.
Korby from Marlboro, MA: What is your relationship like these days with Schlichtmann?
Jonathan Harr: I don't see him that much, but we talk all the time, especially now that the movie is about to come out. During the case -- and while I was writing the book -- I regarded him as a subject of my scrutiny, which perhaps sounds cold and clinical but is nonetheless true. Since the book's publication, I've relaxed a bit, and we've become friends. I should add that I consider myself friendly with just about everyone I wrote about, the possible exception being Judge Skinner. I certainly bear the judge no animus; but we haven't communicated since the book came out.
Pac87@aol.com from xx: Have you seen the movie version yet? How involved were you with the movie project?
Jonathan Harr: I saw an early cut of the movie last July, and two weeks ago, in L.A., saw the final cut three times in four days. I think Steve Zaillian did a superb job with complicated and difficult material. I honestly think it's a great movie. I had no formal involvement in making it, although I met Steve and we became friends before he started working on the screenplay (he both wrote and directed), and he sent me each draft of the screenplay. We'd talk about the screenplays, but I never wrote a word. I also spent time on the movie set, simply because I was curious, and it's a seductive business -- cameras, lights, movie stars, et cetera. And watching other people work is a lot easier than writing.
Stefano from Woburn, MA: I would like to ask Mr. Harr if he has received any backlash from the court system for his depiction of Judge Skinner and the inadequacies of system. Also, have there been responses that support the view of the system as portrayed in the book, whether they be from professionals in the legal world or from ordinary people? Being from Woburn and attending Suffolk Law School, I have a special interest in this case that has touched the lives of some of my close friends, and this story, which reads like a Greek tragedy, is the greatest piece of nonfiction that I have ever read. Both Jan and Mr. Harr have opened a window into the dark courtrooms of America and have allowed the general public to examine the system which was created to protect them. Unfortunately, this time the system failed. Thank you, Mr. Harr, for a wonderful book that has opened many eyes to the injustices of the justice system.
Jonathan Harr: I'm unaware of any backlash, although God knows, something might be afoot in some quarter. Actually, the reception from the legal community has been very gratifying. It seems that many law schools are using the book in Torts, Civil Procedure, Ethics, Trial Practice, et cetera. I gave a talk at Yale Law School last week, and I'm asked frequently by state bar associations to talk. I've been doing a fair amount of it, but the more I do it, the more I feel writers (this one, at least) should stick to writing and not speaking. I made a conscious effort in writing the book to avoid the authorial voice and pontification. I wanted readers to come to their own conclusions. Thanks for your kind words, by the way.
Cindy from Longmeadow, MA: Do you feel there was justice served by the outcome of this case to both W. R. Grace and Beatrice Foods? Is there still any pending litigation? It will be interesting to see if the movie follows the facts -- especially regarding the verdict. Hollywood tends to like happy endings!
Jonathan Harr: Was justice served? That's a complicated question to which I usually give a long answer. The short answer: In part yes, in part no. The Woburn families, after all, did get their case into the courtroom, and there are few countries on this planet where that would have happened. And they got a substantial sum of money (although no sum could possibly compensate a mother for her child). But the system also failed, miserably in my opinion, when suppression and misconduct was brought to the surface by Schlichtmann and then both the judge and the appeals court shrugged their shoulders, so to speak. The movie follows closely the arc of the story as I saw it and depicted it in the book. Hollywood does like happy endings, but Steve Zaillian doesn't.
Kara from Washington, D.C.: I know you probably have no say in this, but why John Travolta? He seems to be an odd choice for the role.
Jonathan Harr: As Jan Schlichtmann would say: Better John Travolta than Danny DeVito. Actually, John's a good choice; he can play the selfish rogue and yet you can see compassion beneath the surface. Check him out in this movie -- he really is good. I think he deserves an Oscar, although Duvall is getting the attention; he got nominated for best supporting actor for the Golden Globes.
John from Rhode Island: What are you now working on? Is a second novel easier?
Jonathan Harr: I'm working on a New Yorker story, due last June, I think. I have lots of ideas for another book, but ideas are cheap. I'm looking specifically at medical research and hope to have something underway by March. Will the second one be easier? I don't know, but the learning curve on the first was sure steep.
Kevin from Baltimore, MD: Mr. Harr, reading this book was like reading a legal thriller. Do you read a lot of legal fiction? Who are some of your favorites?
Jonathan Harr: I read Scott Turow's first book, PRESUMED INNOCENT, which I thought was superb; I've read a few of John Grisham's.... That's about it for legal fiction.
Eugene Chung from Cobb County, GA: Why do you think America loves reading courtroom dramas? What is it about the lawyer that is so unpopular in real life, but is extremely popular in book form?
Jonathan Harr: Courtroom dramas are perfect narratives. All narratives require conflict and resolution, and a case -- a lawsuit -- by its nature has both.
Steve Trapnell from Lancaster, PA: I am a writer myself, and I am curious about how you tracked and compiled the information for this book over such a long time. Did you record conversations? Take notes and then confirm them with participants later? How much access did you have to the people you wrote about, and how accommodating were they?
Jonathan Harr: I don't use a tape recorder. I find you get too much dross, and transcribing them is incredibly laborious (and I didn't have enough money to pay for transcription). I take notes on a reporter's notebook, and I try to type up those notes every evening. I write fast, using my own shorthand. I'm scared of tape recorders anyhow; I'm always afraid the battery will die or I'll flip the tape over and record over what I just recorded. I got great access from Schlichtmann and his firm and the Woburn families. Jerry Facher was quite open, too; so was Bill Cheeseman, personally, but he was hamstrung by his client, W. R. Grace, to an extent that Facher was not. I describe briefly in the endnotes of the book how I went about reporting. For the most part, everyone was accommodating. In 20 years of reporting, I'm always surprised by that. But in my experience, people generally like to talk about what they do and about themselves if they've got a genuinely interested listener
Mike from Santa Clara, CA: I want to express my satisfaction with this book. I thought A CIVIL ACTION was a well-written account of something all too common in America. What are your thoughts on this matter? Do you think this type of case happens too often (maybe not of equal magnitude) in this country?
Jonathan Harr: My first thought is gratitude that you found the book worth your while.... On the matter of environmental contamination in America, it is altogether too common, I've learned. I've gotten calls from people from Seattle to Miami, from L.A. to Maine, who've got problems similar to those in Woburn. My heart goes out to them; some of their stories are incredibly poignant and full of desperation for a remedy. On balance, I think the courts are not the place where we'll find solutions. That will come with an increased awareness of the fact that without clean air to breathe and clean water to drink, we cannot exist as a society.
Gil from Ft. Collins, CO: Are there any regrets, or things long after the book has been published that you would change or switch in your book?
Jonathan Harr: I wish that Judge Skinner could have found it possible, in one way or another, without violating judicial ethics, to spend time talking to me. Purely from a narrative standpoint, I would have liked to see the world through his eyes. A valuable writing technique is to see one's characters through the eyes of another, and I would have liked to depict Jan Schlichtmann as the judge saw him. For reasons not wholly clear to me the judge felt he couldn't give me that insight. If I'd had it, I think my depiction of him would have been more expansive and perhaps more understanding. I consider him a good judge who, nonetheless, I believe, made a mistake in this case.
Jossie from New York City, NY: In the end, would you say this case was a positive or negative experience for Schlichtmann? How do you think this case changed him as a person?
Jonathan Harr: Overall the case was a horrible experience for him. He lost all his worldly goods (and he did care about that stuff, too!) and his faith in the judicial system that he cared about and believed in. He's experienced sort of a "second coming" with the book and the movie, though. I used to think it had changed him quite dramatically, much for the worse, but I think now it was a spell of clinical depression that seemed to go on for several years. My feeling now is that he's back, the same old Jan -- somewhat older, somewhat wiser, somewhat less willing to gamble everything. He is, however, a truly unique character. In that sense, I was blessed as a writer.
Matt Smith from Tates Creek, KY: What to you are Schlichtmann's best attributes? What about worst?
Jonathan Harr: He's a guy with incredible energy, the sort of person who, when he walks into a room, turns heads. He's smart; he genuinely cares about issues like the environment; he's quite funny; he's generous. He's also unrelentingly persistent, which is both a virtue and a flaw, egotistical, a megalomaniac. What can I say? He's become my friend, and I like him in spite of -- maybe because of -- his flaws as well as his virtues.
Moderator: Thank you, Jonathan Harr! Best of luck with everything. Do you have any closing comments for the online audience?
Jonathan Harr: Only that I enjoyed this quite a bit. I guess I like talking about myself and my work as much as the subjects of my reporting like talking about themselves. My thanks for some provocative questions.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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.
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.
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.
This is a good book. Great for history buffs. Suspense til the last page.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
I read this for school originally, and it's become my favorite novel. I read it at least once a year!
I loved this book. Lots of loose ends which come together into a neat package at the end. A tale of forgiveness and redemtion.
Layer upon nuanced layer. Austere narrative matches the unapologetic landscape. Deft use of imagery and symbolism. Classic in the sense that this battle, both in the individual and public arena, will always exist-- with different details but constantly part of the human condition. And ending full of hope and encouragement. Well developed characters makes this story all the more believable and accessible.
If the word ¿poignant¿ can be applied to a murder mystery, then let it be this novel which deals with veiled racism and bigotry toward Japanese-Americans in the aftermath of Pearl Harbor and subsequent internment. A murder trial in a 1950¿s Puget Sound island community where evidence is framed by jurors¿ assumptions and fears leaves this reader to wonder if this is the rule or the exception in our jury-based system.
Excellent book! I would highly recommend it!! The movie is another story, though..wouldn't recommend that!!
Listening to the unabridged version. Almost did not get through the first CD. Tedious courtroom dialog. But now, I'm hooked. It is the story that is compelling not so much the telling of it. That is annoying to me. I am incredibly sucked into the story and some of the characters, as in life. I want to be there. I feel I am there at times. I sit and listen in my garage letting the car battery keep it going. Not an easy read nor easy to listen to the telling but a must for the TBR pile.
This is a lovely book. Unfortunately I had already seen the movie when I read it (the movie is quite good), but I think many of the visual images came from the movie instead of the book. In any case, the writing style is very well-matched to the story-- calming and almost surreal, floaty and dreamlike, symphonic. The plot itself is interesting enough, but what makes it stand out in the beautiful setting and the way the writing and place blend into each other. I hav enot read any other books by Guterson that I even liked-- this one is his masterpiece.
In an island near Seattle in the 50s a Japanese American is accused of killing another islander. It's a murder mystery, a love story, and a story about Japenese discimination. The characters are wll developmed. The story is believable. The time period is set up well. Would definitely recommend.
I was hesitant to pick up this book because I wasn't sure if I'd like it or not, and to tell the truth, this book wasn't my favorite. There were things I liked about it and things I didn't like about it, but overall, this isn't a book that I'd be dying to re-read. I'm going to start with the things I liked about it. First of all, I really liked that for a historical fiction, this was a unique period of time. This is the first book I've ever read that spends time in the Japanese internment camps and that takes place in the post-WWII years. For that reason, this gets points for uniqueness. Also, I liked that Guterson spends a great deal of time with character development. He makes sure that the reader gets to know his cast of characters and comes to understand the motives behind their actions. But, more on that later. I particularly enjoyed the beauty of his language. There were times that I'd get completely caught up in the simple beauty of his words, and I found myself re-reading a few passages here and there. There was also a gorgeous love story, and that was mostly what kept me reading. I feel as though everything else sort of centered around that love story. It is a slower and calmer read, not necessarily one to keep the pages flipping, but I don't think that's negative in any way. I think that every now and then readers need something to slow them down and remind them why they love to read. Above all, though, my favorite thing about this book was that there was something for everyone--a trial and a murder investigation, a love story, war stories, seafaring stories, and stories from both Americans and Japanese Americans during WWII. This book was about love, redemption, forgiveness, responsibility, history, pride, and prejudice. To me, that is why this book was worth of the Pen/Faulkner Award. However, there were a few things that I didn't like. First of all, although it is apparent that Guterson painstakingly researched his novel, the excessive amounts of detail at various points really detracted from the story. There were times when I'd be happily reading along, caught up in the story, and then I'd hit a chunk of two or three pages of unnecessary detail and I'd have to fight my way through. He doesn't do this all the time, I noticed. There are times when the amount of detail is enough to paint a lush picture in the reader's mind, but there were several times when it was just too much. There was only one other thing that I didn't really enjoy about this novel, and it was a doozy for me, being a reader for whom characters are everything. While Guterson excels at character development and really has a knack for it, I still managed to walk away from this one feeling no connection with his characters. This was rather strange for me and took me a while to place my finger on because usually with excellent character development comes a great connect with the characters. However, now that I've finished with this book, I'm fairly certain that these are not characters that will remain with me, and they weren't ones who I found myself daydreaming about. Overall though, I do think this was a good book. I ended up just liking it, not loving it, but that doesn't take away from this being a good book. There were things I liked and things I didn't, but for me, that's what separates a great book from just a good one.
I've been reading a lot of books that take place during World War II lately, and this was yet another one. I also takes place in the Puget Sound. In this book a Japanese-American man is accused of the murder of a local fisherman who grew up with him. The story jumps back and forth between the trial and the history of these two men and the people around them.
Very much enjoyed this novel. The writing is beautiful and story compelling as Guterson uses a murder trial held during a snow storm in 1954 as a touch stone to tell his story. A young fisherman is drowned off an island in the Pacific Northwest - maybe murdered by a Japanese-American fisherman to settle an old score over land. Guterson uses the trial to delve into the lives of the community trying to recover from the trauma of WWII. Veterans returned from war, Japanese families returned from internment camps. The community struggles with its prejudice and human failings. Guterson jumps back in forth in time following the lives of several islanders as they grow up and grow apart; providing concise and insightful descriptions of all the characters - major and minor - as well as the lush landscape in which they live.Highly recommend.
The novel has been compared to To Kill a Mockingbird and there are similarities in plot and theme--but I have to say I wouldn't compare the the two--Guterson's novel just isn't anywhere near as powerful as Harper Lee's classic novel. The novel is set in 1954 in Washington State and involves the murder trial of Kabuo Miyamoto and the lingering issues of the forced removal and internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, interweaving the present of the trial with the past of those involved. I was thrown a bit by the first courtroom scene. Reading it I wanted to yell, "Objection, leading the witness!" (Yes, that sort of thing bothers me--harder to suspend your disbelief when you know the author right at the start has things wrong.) I thought the scenes in the courtroom dull, and one of many reasons I felt the novel has no where near the impact of To Kill a Mocking Bird is that the evidence does suggest guilt and not a matter of prejudice--while it's clear in Lee's book race is the issue. Even though there were some beautiful passages, other aspects of the omniscient narrative bothered me. The story didn't always flow and was slow-paced, almost glacial at points, and devoid of a sense of humor; the sex scenes felt rather romance novel (and at times the sexual content--like that regarding sex life of the defense lawyer--TMI and extraneous), and if I had to hear about the sheriff's Juicy Fruit gum one more time I thought I'd scream. Kabuo, his wife Hatsue and the man who loved her as a boy, Ismael, are all sympathetic characters though, and the story of the Japanese American experience in those times did hold my interest. (The scenes in the internment camp were among the most vivid and riveting, I suspect more because I'm unfamiliar with the subject rather than Guterson's prose.) I liked how evocatively the author described the rural Pacific Northwest, drew different characters and, through both, portrayed the fictional community of San Pedro Island. The ending fell flat for me though. It made a tidy resolution mystery-wise but failed to move me.
This was a gift from my landlord's wife, who feels a certain sympathy with me, having gone through some of my recent medical travails herself in years past. And I will be passing it along to my medical mentor in turn.The cover indicates that this novel won the Pen/Faulkner Award, which I am unfamiliar with. I can believe that it is an award winner, because it was an engrossing story, well told.It is set on San Piedro Island, which purports to be one of San Juan Islands between Vancouver Island, British Columbia, and the mainland State of Washington. This alone would predispose me to like the book, since it is a region I love deeply, though I have little experience of the islands themselves, having spent more time on the Olympic Peninsula.The plot is a modern-day murder trial, with the apparent motive rooted in the past. The trial acts as a frame to move between past and present and among viewpoints. Each chapter opens in the courtroom, and as each witness begins his or her testimony, the story switches to a third-person narrative recounting that person's thoughts, feelings, and experiences, starting with the sheriff finding the body. Some chapters take a similar approach with key bystanders to the trial, such as the reporter Ishmael Chambers--moving from his actions as reporter to his background growing up on the island and then going to war. And so the story moves from sheriff to reporter, coroner, victim's widow, defendant's widow, victim's mother, etc.As each piece of evidence and testimony ineluctably leads to another personal narrative, the tension builds, and past and present weave together, showing the tensions and bonds of a small, rural community that relies on farming and fishing for subsistence. Composed of German and Scandinavian and more recently Japanese immigrants, World War II and the accompanying internment of Japanese-Americans, tears the community and families apart, interrupting and disrupting lives, with consequences that ripple out to the present day. Throw in a love triangle, some bigotry, and we have the crisis of the past that leads to the climax of the present.The prose is eloquent, the characterizations very believable. David Guterson does his best to maintain the suspense for as long as possible--did Kabuo Miyamoto really kill Carl Heine? All of the evidence and testimony seems pretty damning. Whether he did or not, two families are economically destroyed in the process, though this consequence of the sudden death and subsequent trial is outside the scope of the story. Because of this, it is a tender tragedy. It is well worth reading, though not a book I plan to keep (as mentioned earlier). It would doubtless make a fine movie, though many of the nuances would be lost.