Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Books like Snow Falling on Cedars are so hard to review. For one, I loved it, and any book I absolutely loved is hard to review because I can't possibly hope to say, nor should I say, everything that made me love it. For another, there was so much going on in it that it's hard to bring it down to something nice, neat, and concise to stick on ye olde blog. That and I promised myself I would retire the phrase "brings to life" for a while, and it's going to be hard to avoid with this book. This all being said, my best advice to you would be to scrap this feeble attempt at a review and just go grab a copy of this book and read it. If I haven't deterred you, here's the review all sad and short and revealing very little of the awesomeness.

Snow Falling on Cedars, set on a scenic island off Washington state known for its fishing and its strawberries, begins and ends with the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto who is charged with the murder of fellow islander and fisherman Carl Heine. As the testimony in the trial proceeds, we meet and become intimately acquainted with many members of the community of islanders which is divided between its white citizens and its significant population of Japanese-Americans. Taking place just after World War II, the novel deals with lingering prejudices from wartime when the island's Japanese Americans were "resettled" in California for the duration of the fighting and when even those white islanders who might have once been favorably disposed to their Japanese counterparts struggle to reconcile their post-war relationships with their Japanese neighbors after fighting the Japanese during the war.

Guterson takes on so much with this novel and does it beautifully. Starting at the center with the trial, Guterson works out throught the entire community exploring a forbidden affair, intense prejudice, war wounds of both the physical and emotional sort, hopes, dreams, struggles, and finally healing for a community that is coming to terms with itself. Guterson's narrative flows seamlessly between past and present between trial testimony and deeply personal memories. His prose is vivid and makes it totally possible to see, smell, and even taste the unique surroundings of San Piedro Island. The greatness of this book lies in the community that Guterson creates and his immense talent for perfectly capturing moments we might have some sense of but could never describe so deliciously.

He captures the feel of a thunderstorm...

Late in the afternoon, at about four-thirty, heavy clouds shadowed the strawberry fields. The clean June light went softly gray and a breeze came up in the southwest. It was possible, then, to feel the cool pause before the first drops fell. The air turned thick; sudden gusts caught the cedars at the edge of the fields and flailed their tops and branches... The pickers craned their necks to watch the clouds and held their palms out to check for rain. At first just a few drops raised tiny wisps of dust around them and then, as if a hole had been punched in the sky, and island summer rain poured hard against their faces...

...Kabuo's memory of the sea from his prison cell...

From his bunk in the Island County Jail he felt the sea again and the swells under his boat as it rode over the foam; with his eyes shut he smelled cold salt and the odor of salmon in the hold, heard the net winch working and the deep note of the engine. Rafts of seabirds rose off the water, making way in the first misty light with the Islander bound for home on a cool morning, half a dozen kings in her hold, and the whine of the wind in her rigging.

and the essence of a snow day:

Yet on the other hand the snowstorm might mean a respite, a happy wintertime vacation. Schools would shut down, roads would close, no one would go off to their jobs. Families would eat large breakfasts late, then dress for snow and go out in the knowledge that they'd return to warm, snug houses. Smoke would curl from chimneys; at dusk lights would come on. Lopsided snowmen would stand sentinel in yards. There would be enough to eat, no reason for worry.

1 comment:

  1. I read this long ago, when it first came out, but I do remember really enjoying it.