Quorren’s #CBR4 Review #10 Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
I picked the wrong week to read a sad story. After losing a pet, this book probably wasn’t the best choice to occupy my mind from sadness. Surprisingly, it did help me put my grief into perspective, if only for short periods of time, which did help a bit with the healing process. It’s very hard to be huddle up in your nest of despair on the couch for the death of a pet rat when thousands of Japanese Americans were forced into “interment” camps (let’s be polite about institutional racism, guys!) after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.
The story begins abruptly in the courtroom where Kabuo Miyamoto is on trial for the murder of Carl Heine. Through the trial and witness testimony, we are giving glimpse of life in this small Puget Sound island pre and post WWII. The island of San Piedro had a sizable Japanese population before the war, most of whom worked as field hands in the farms on the island. Miyamoto’s father made an arrangement with Heine’s father; they bought seven acres of Heine’s farmland to be paid off in monthly installments. When the forced internment occurred, the Miyamoto family was one payment short of finally owning the land outright. Heine’s father promised them that he would honor their agreement when the family could return to the island. Unfortunately, the father died before the end of the war, leaving his racists wife to sell all of the land to another farmer. Since the war, Miyamoto has become obsessed with reclaiming the land. Motive, a slew of circumstantial evidence and the community’s deep resentment of their Japanese populace after the war leads Kabuo’s arrest.
Another aspect of the story is that the town reporter and WWII vetran, Ishmael, was in love with Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue, when they were teenagers. What began as a subplot quickly became the focus of the story – their childhood together, their burgeoning romance, the day they were parted while the trial takes a backseat. Eventually Ishmael reconciles loosing Hatsue and saves the day. Excuse me if I don’t give the guy a standing ovation.
Most of the story is told from Ishmael’s point of view, especially after the internment when Hatsue breaks it off with him in a letter and Ishmael is drafted into the Pacific theater. He then wallows in self-pity amiss a very graphic depiction of American troops attempting to storm an island in the Pacific. I’m not a big fan of reading detailed accounts in real wars (I’m totally cool with Aragon storming the Black Gate, but I can’t stand to think of my grandfather fighting in the Pacific with body parts floating around in the water), but I really hate people that write letters to their ex-girlfriends that say, “I hate you, I hate your race and I can’t wait to kill people that look like you”. Because Hatsue must be living it up after being forced from her home and put into prison all because of her parents are Japanese. So Ishmael’s a big charmer. And he only gets better as the story goes on; the ending hinges on his moral ambiguity. I feel like several times the author tries to emotional manipulate the reader into feeling sorry for Ishmael (oh no, he lost a arm in the war! The Japanese population and the US government lost their dignity!), but I just wasn’t buying it.
All in all, it’s an amazing book, but don’t expect to walk away from it in a great mood.