Snow Falling on Cedars

(Critical Survey of Contemporary Fiction)

SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS is an impressive first novel. On their small island in Puget Sound, Guterson’s strawberry farmers, his fishermen and their wives, and his protagonist, a newspaper editor, would seem to be insulated from the turmoil of the mainland. When the body of Carl Heine, Jr., is found dragging behind his boat, however, old prejudices surface. Less than a decade after World War II, it is only too easy to look for villains within the Japanese American community. Since everyone knows that he has never become reconciled to the Heine family’s seizure of land his father had bought, Kabuo Miyomoto is arrested for murder. It is his trial which provides the framework for the novel.

While most of the islanders base their belief in Kabuo’s guilt or innocence on their own ethnic backgrounds, the newspaperman Ishmael Chambers cannot help hoping for a conviction for selfish reasons. For years, he has been in love with Hatsue Miyomoto, Kabuo’s wife, and Ishmael cannot help fantasizing about his chances if Kabuo disappears from her life. When Ishmael comes into possession of information that will clear Kabuo, he is tempted to suppress it. Nevertheless, Hatsue’s nobility and his own conscience force Ishmael to abandon his habitual cynicism, and he does the right thing, thus saving not only Kabuo but also himself. SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS is a novel which is often lyrical, always convincing, and above all, solidly based on the author’s knowledge of human nature, both at its worst and, happily, at its best.

Sources for Further Study

Booklist. XC, August, 1994, p. 2022.

The Christian Science Monitor. September 23, 1994, p. 12.

Commonweal. CXXI, December 2, 1994, p. 28.

Hungry Mind Review. LXXXVI, Fall, 1994, p. 30.

Library Journal. CXIX, August, 1994, p. 129.

Los Angeles Times. September 19, 1994, p. E4.

The New York Times Book Review. XCIX, October 16, 1994, p. 12.

Publishers Weekly. CCXLI, August 1, 1994, p. 70.

Time. CXLIV, September 26, 1994, p. 79.

The Washington Post Book World. XXIV, October 16, 1994, p. 8.