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Summary and book reviews of Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson

Snow Falling On Cedars

by David Guterson

Snow Falling On Cedars
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  • First Published:
    Sep 1994, 345 pages
    Paperback:
    Sep 1995, 460 pages

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Book Summary

Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric -a masterpiece of suspense-- one that leaves us shaken and changed.

Winner of the PEN/Faulkner Award 1995 and the 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.

Excerpt
Snow Falling on Cedars

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. ...

Please be aware that this discussion guide may contain spoilers!
The discussion topics, 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 at--and talking about--a 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.

The place is the fictional island of San Piedro off the coast of Washington, a community of "five thousand damp souls" [p. 5] who support themselves through salmon fishing and berry farming...
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Reviews

Media Reviews
Time - Pico Iyer

Luminous...a beautifully assured and full-bodied novel [that] becomes a tender examination of fairness and forgiveness...Guterson has fashioned something haunting and true.

Los Angeles Times

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

Booklist

Guterson's first novel is compellingly suspenseful on each of its several levels.

Kirkus Reviews

As a thick snowstorm whirls outside the courtroom, the story is unburied. The same incidents are recounted a number of times, with each telling revealing new facts. In the end, justice and morality are proven to be intimately woven with beauty--the kind of awe and wonder that children feel for the world. But Guterson communicates these truths through detail, not philosophical argument: Readers will come away with a surprising store of knowledge regarding gill-netting boats and other specifics of life in the Pacific Northwest. Packed with lovely moments and as compact as haiku--at the same time, a page-turner full of twists.

The New York Times Book Review

Compelling...heartstopping. Finely wrought, flawlessly written.

Reader Reviews
Dave S

Snow Falling on Cedars
I read this many years ago, but still count it among my favorites. It is one of those rare books where the setting is painted so vividly, you are taken there to listen and experience the story firsthand. And once you are there, the story flows ...   Read More

Scrutiny

Enjoyable
While flowing through a series of flashbacks and present day proceedings, an inexperienced reader may feel lost. But these same flashbacks delve deeply into the mindsets of the characters and opens the reader up to a much closer connection to each ...   Read More

corshelle

the best book ever
This was one of the best books I have ever read. It pulls you in then spits you out. You can't put it down.

reader j

Brilliant
I had to read this book in English class and once I started reading I couldn't stop anymore. I find that the novel is written brilliantly- calm, but not boring. Every character is so lively!

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