Michael Harris (review date 19 September 1994)
SOURCE: "Sometimes, Even Good People Must Coexist With Evil," in Los Angeles Times, September 19, 1994, p. E4.
[In the review below, Harris comments on character and theme in Snow Falling on Cedars.]
David Guterson's haunting first novel [Snow Falling on Cedars] works on at least two levels. It gives us a puzzle to solve—a whodunit complete with courtroom maneuvering and surprising turns of evidence—and at the same time it offers us a mystery, something altogether richer and deeper.
In 1954, off the island of San Piedro in Puget Sound, salmon fisherman Carl Heine is found drowned and entangled in his boat's gill net. It seems to be an accident. Soon, however, darker suspicions bubble to the surface, and a fisherman of Japanese descent, Kabuo Miyomoto, is put on trial for murder.
Heine, the coroner discovers, has a fractured skull; before drowning, he hit his head on something, or was hit. Evidence confirms that Miyomoto boarded Heine's boat on the foggy night when he died—a rare occurrence among these solitary and self-reliant men. Yet Miyomoto's initial statements to investigators failed to mention such a visit.
Besides, Miyomoto had a motive for foul play. When San Piedro's Japanese population was interned in 1942, his parents had nearly paid off their mortgage on a seven-acre strawberry farm bought from Heine's parents. Heine's mother, Etta, promptly sold the land to another farmer. Stoic in the face of legalized injustice, Miyomoto and his wife, Hatsue, waited patiently to repurchase the farm when its owner grew old, but instead Heine bought it just before his death.
This is the puzzle: We are led to believe that Miyomoto, who fought with the legendary 442nd Regimental Combat Team in Europe, is an honorable man, although his stern bearing revives anti-Japanese prejudices...
(The entire section is 786 words.)