Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
One of the most astounding factoids about Snow Falling on Cedars is that its author, David Guterson, worked on it almost exclusively during mornings hours because he was a full-time teacher (it's tough to imagine Guterson sipping coffee and chewing donuts while chronicling the many death scenes in this novel). Guterson took 10 years to finish the novel but his perseverance paid off: Snow Falling on Cedars would later win the PEN/Faulkner Award (and other awards, too) and even be adapted into an Oscar-nominated film.
The story is set on the island of San Piedro in 1954, a time when Anti-Japanese sentiments were still extant. A Japanese American fisherman - Kabuo Miyamoto - is accused of murder, and his guilt depends not only on empirical evidence but also on the bias of the jury (imagine TKAM + L' étranger). His wife, Hatsue, is his witness and Ishmael Chambers, a marine corps veteran, is tasked with documenting the trial.
Guterson knows no limits in storytelling; he traverses time, distance and culture as he writes of Chambers and Hatsue's childhood romance, the eviction of the Japanese from San Piedro after Pearl Harbour and the agonizing, submissive taciturnity of the Japanese. In one chapter one will readof strawberry fields and yarrow tea and in the next, encounter foul-mouthed soldiers and trenches.
Written immaculately and poetically, Snow Falling on Cedars will appeal to anyone who has an appreciation of fine language and historical fiction. The exotic terms Guterson uses, although at times seemingly redundant, nonetheless add to the novel's prosody and complement Guterson's attention to detail.
Although snow may lay a blanket on the cedars of one's past, Snow Falling on Cedars reveals that it will always melt away and reveal fresh branches of a cruel war and past love that impinge on us all the same. And although the snow that falls throughout the court case is peppered by nature's hand, the separation of Hatsue and Chambers, the prejudice of the crowd and even Hatsue's mother's stringent disposition reveal that "accidents rule every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart."
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