Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel by David GutersonSnow Falling on Cedars: A Novel by David Guterson

Snow Falling on Cedars: A Novel

byDavid Guterson

Paperback | September 26, 1995

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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
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, Desce...
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Title:Snow Falling on Cedars: A NovelFormat:PaperbackDimensions:480 pages, 7.99 × 5.15 × 0.96 inPublished:September 26, 1995Publisher:Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:067976402X

ISBN - 13:9780679764021

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Reviews

Rated 4 out of 5 by from wasn't what I expected I expected a story of character but was pleasantly surprised that the book is more about a court case
Date published: 2018-01-24
Rated 3 out of 5 by from I expected more I found this book to be a little slow and meandering. I didn't like it as much as I was hoping. I haven't watched the movie and I don't think I will now. #plumreview
Date published: 2017-11-24
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Great! A good book with great character development. Perfect for school assignments and projects.
Date published: 2017-03-17
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Good read I loved reading this book, that was a story not only about love, but about getting justice. This story had me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.
Date published: 2017-03-07
Rated 1 out of 5 by from Very boring On the cover of this book there is a review from The New York Times that describes it as "Compelling . . . heart-stopping. Finely wrought, flawlessly written." I could not disagree more. There was nothing "heart-stopping" about it except that it bored me to death. I am the type of reader that likes to read every word and I found myself skimming page after page just to get to the end and find out what happens. Even the finale was anticlimactic. Perhaps I expected too much from the book as I do look at reviews to help me pick out material to read and the reviews for this work were so positive. I really wanted to enjoy this book but I did not at all.
Date published: 2009-03-29
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Snow Falling on Cedars Carl Heine a local fisherman is found dead tangled up in his fishing net. The sheriff takes the body to be examined and the corner finds a head trauma that reminds him of the type of trauma caused by a gun butt, the type a Japanese soldier would be trained to inflict. The Sheriff searches the boat of the American citizen of Japanese descent, Kabuo, and finds enough evidence to charge him with the murder of Carl Heine. "Snow Falling on Cedars" is a book that confronts racism and its blinding effect it has on intelligent people. The book takes place eight years after the end of the World War II and the people of San Piedro Island are mistrustful of the Japanese in their community. The Japanese of the community had been sent off to exile during the war losing all their possessions. Though Kabuo even served in the war fighting Germans on behalf of the Americans the town people are convinced he is responsible for Carl's death. The interesting point here is that Carl is of German descent, but since there is no great physical difference between him and the majority of the population like there is with the Japanese no one mistrusts Carl for an instant. Ishmael the town reporter is a sorrowful character with no life to speak of. He was involved with Kabuo's wife when they were teenagers, but she detached herself from him and he became bitter and cursed the Japanese when he fought them in war for they reminded him of Hatsue and her lack of love for him. He carries a grudge for pretty much the rest of his life, and is a social outcast, much like Ishmael from "Moby Dick" The book is about different types of losses, each character losing a different thing, Carl his life, Kabuo his freedom and his father's land, Hatsue her innocence, and Ishmael his love or physical obsession with Hatsue. I found Hatsue fascinating; I could not figure out why she spent so much physical time with Ishmael who lusted after her in their private cedar tree, but ignored her in public. I was glad when Hatsue finally realized how wrong he was for her and that when she was with him it was wrong. A satisfying read, but I did find myself skimming some areas because the book got wordy and repeated itself. It ended differently than I had predicted which is a pleasant surprise because I usually predict correctly.
Date published: 2008-08-24
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great love and justice story wow, i was blown aways by this book, truly a great book, and i strongly recommend those, especially interested in law and justice, as well as romance as something to definitely add to your memories of reading. without giving much away, the plot was endearing and had me on the edge of my seat till the last word. i am so happy to have stumbled upon such a great book.
Date published: 2008-01-19
Rated 3 out of 5 by from not what i expected I thought that this book was very dry to read. The writng of the book made me want to rush through it, just so I could find out what was going to happen next. I didn't enjoy the elaborate details and wished the story had more flow to it.
Date published: 2001-02-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent Book This is one of the best books I have read to date. I was glued to this book from start to finish.
Date published: 2001-02-11
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Inspiration but without grace Mr. Gutenberg inspired me to research the plight of the Japanese during World War II. The sentiments expressed by his characters with regards to the war were heartfelt and touching. It is also obvious that Mr. Gutenberg researched this topic a great deal. However, I find that the book did not flow as easily as I would have liked. The transitions in time were confusing, and his words lacked the gracefulness found in books like Obasan, which touch on the same topic. Mr. Gutenberg's interjection of the love story could be emotionally tiring at time, but reflected real life. I would recommend this book, but reader beware, do not have high expectations.
Date published: 2001-02-03
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Snow Falling on Cedars I enjoyed this book. it is very detailed on character and that period of history. The author did substantial research on the post war era, the location but made a few errors in law. Otherwise a good story.
Date published: 2000-04-16

Read from the Book

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.

Bookclub Guide

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner AwardAmerican Booksellers Association Book of the Year AwardSan 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 Review1. 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 play--both literally and metaphorically--in 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 meaningful--about 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 depersonalized--detached from their identities--either 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 trial--in which facts are interpreted differently by opposing attorneys--fit 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 father--of 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 possess--and are at times driven by--certain 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 Heine--whose racism is keenly ironic in view of her German origins--Art 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 them--Etta Heine--emerges 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 ways--and 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 doubleness--between Japanese and American--expressed 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"?

From Our Editors

Winner of the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award, Snow Falling on Cedars interweaves all manners of passion into one evocative novel. A small fishing community in the islands of Washington's Puget Sound has been consumed by the murder trial of a Japanese-American man accused of killing another over a land dispute. A journalist sets out to find the truth and in the process heal his own wounds while dealing with his love for the accused's wife, Hatsue. David Guterson's book is a powerful telling of the forces that pull a man from both the inside and out. Part murder mystery, part romance, all of it is remarkable.

Editorial Reviews

"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