Book Reviews: Snow Falling on Cedars

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Snow Falling on Cedars
by David Guterson

Set on a small island off the coast of Washington, this novel is a murder mystery, tale of forbidden love and war story all rolled into one. A decade after WWII a Japanese man is on trial for the murder of a local fisherman and the tight-knit community must face their own prejudices as he is put on trial. Land feuds and jilted lovers from the past haunt the trial and a snow storm descends on the island as the courtroom heats up.

I really loved the first half of the book, then in the second half dwelled on badly written war scenes and unnecessary sex details. Do I really need to know that the prosecutor on the case is impotent? We know nothing else about his character, he’s mentioned only a few times, but for some reason the author gives a detailed description of his sexual frustration.

Other than that complaint, I really enjoyed the book. If it had been pruned a bit more it would have been great. The story paints a powerful picture of underlying racism and prejudices, demonstrating how dangerous they can be to a society.

There’s one section I found particularly thought-provoking. Two men who played together as children, talk as adults. One is a Japanese-American, the other Caucasian and the white man confesses he has a hard time dealing with the fact that he was trained to fight and kill people who look just like his friend during the war. His Japanese-American friend responds by saying, so did I! I killed blonde Nazi who looked just like you.

For some reason I’d never quite thought about that. American often vilify an entire race (right now it’s Middle-Eastern people) because we’ve fought wars with people from that country. But evil can take on any persona and the Nazis were as lily-white as they come. How interesting that that never seems to bother people.


She said...

I liked this one as well when I read it a few months ago. I think one of the best parts for me was the extreme characterization.

I like what you pointed out at the end of your post, and it is quite interesting to think about, isn't it? I had a similar experience when I visited the communism museum in Prague. They had propaganda posters that were against the evil Americans and how the US was going to kill old women and children etc etc. The funny thing was that they were almost identical to the propaganda posters the Americans had against the Communists (with slight alterations, of course). I feel as though it's always harder to look at how the other side thinks about things especially with the whole 'the winners write history' thing.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

I visited a similar museum in Budapest. I agree, we see history from one side and don't often think about how the people on the other side saw it. Really, we aren't all that different from those we end up fighting.

TheBookGirl said...

I read this one years ago and remember liking it alot. Your review was wonderful, very insightful :)

Natalie~Coffee and a Book Chick said...

I really need to read this one - I did see the movie but unfortunately didn't much care for it. Lovely review as always!

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Coffee - I'm hesitant to see the movie, because I haven't heard good things. I'm always worried that movies will ruins my view of the characters.