David Guterson Snow Falling on Cedars
Award: PEN/Faulkner Prize for Fiction
Born in 1956, Guterson is an American novelist and short story writer.
Snow Falling on Cedars is set on the Puget Sound island of San Piedro in 1954 and centers on the murder trial of Kabuo Miyomoto, accused of killing fisherman Carl Heine. Miyomoto and his family were sent in 1942 to Manzanar, one of the relocation camps in which many Japanese Americans were interned during World War II because—though many had lived in America for generations—the American government determined they represented a threat to national security due to their race. Perhaps surprisingly, upon his release Miyomoto joined the United States Army and fought in Italy. After the war he returned to San Piedro to find that the strawberry farm his family had been buying from the Heine family had been sold during the Miyomoto's absence. Miyomoto's obsession with the farm provides the apparent motive for his alleged murder of Heine. Although the action of the novel focuses on the investigation and testimony presented at the trial, Guterson's omniscient viewpoint allows for numerous flashbacks among several of the characters, including a subplot involving an adolescent romance between Ishmael Chambers, a war veteran who operates the local newspaper, and Hatsue, Miyomoto's wife. Critics have praised Guterson's subtle treatment of racial prejudice and have characterized the novel as a study of community, hypocrisy, and the debilitating effects of guilt and obsession. Miyomoto's drive to reclaim the farm, and the guilt he feels for having killed Germans in Italy, is contrasted throughout with Chambers's vague desire to rekindle his romance with Hatsue. Although some commentators contend that the novel lacks an intriguing protagonist and suffers from an overabundance of detail, most have lauded Guterson's prose, arguing that he invigorates his story with a dramatic and suspenseful pace and evokes a clear sense of the island's physical environment and the mood and way of life of its inhabitants.