Snow Falling on Cedars is one of my all-time favorite books. This book has everything: a great setting, a mystery, romance, a clash of cultures, and resentment stemming from treatment during WWII.
The book primarily takes place on a fictional island in the San Juan Islands. I grew up near there so it brings back memories of my trips to the islands, but it also has the slightly different and exotic culture of living on an island. It is a mystery and an intriguing one: How did a local fisherman drown? That brings in the fishing culture. “Thus on San Piedro the silent-toiling, autonomous gillnetter became the collective image of the good man. He who was too gregarious, who spoke too much and too ardently desired the company of other, their conversation and their laughter, did not have what life required. Only insofar as he struggled with the sea could a man lay claim to his place in things.” (pg 39)
And, it is set right after WWII. The main suspect in the murder is a Japanese-American man who was sent to a camp and lost his strawberry farm during the war. When I first read this book I had no idea that had happened in the Pacific NW. The book starts in the courtroom with the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto and flashes back to other time periods and is told from various third person points-of-view.
A reporter, Ishmael Chambers, recalls his teenage love for Hatsue, who is now Kabuo’s wife. Guterson does a good job of capturing this first love amid the rainy island beauty. “Ishmael lay down with his hands propping up his chin and looked out at the rain. The inside of the tree felt private. He felt they would never be discovered here. The walls surrounding them were glossy and golden. It was surprising how much green-tinted light entered from the cedar forest. The rain echoed in the canopy of leaves above and beat against the sword ferns, which twitched under each drop. The rain afforded an even greater privacy; no one in the world would come this way to find them inside this tree.” (pg 111) Then Hatsue is sent away to a camp and Ishmael is drafted into the war.
In the present time they are all back on the island and the man Kabuo is accused of killing has taken over what was to be the family’s strawberry farm. It is an interesting look into the time after the war and how people may have reacted when those interred came back home. If you didn’t read this book when it came out, make sure to pick it up now. I am looking forward to reading his most recent book, The Other.