David Guterson "Snow Falling on Cedars"

David Guterson "Snow Falling on Cedars"

David Guterson "Snow Falling on Cedars"


David Guterson

‘Snow Falling on Cedars’ in set on the island of San Piedro. The island is home to people whose families have come from other countries to find a new and better life in the north west of the United States. But these people have brought their old ways with them. The various groups on the island keep apart from each other and, over the years, many social problems have developed. People of different races fail to understand each other. Sometimes they do not even try.

The islanders have two main occupations. One is salmon fishing. The work is hard and the fishermen have to work alone in difficult conditions. The salmon swim into nets and are trapped. So too, the fishermen of San Piedro are trapped in their own way of life and family backgrounds. Others on the island own land on which they farm strawberries. The work is a little easier than fishing and the landowners feel more secure.

The story begins in the autumn of 1954. The Second World War has ended, but the memories of it remain. The Japanese living on San Piedro are not trusted because no one can forget how Japan attacked the Americans in the Pacific. So when Carl Heine, a fisherman from a German family, is found dead on his boat in mysterious circumstances, many people are willing to accuse his Japanese neighbour of murder.

Evidence is found that seems to point to the guilt of the fisherman, Kabuo Miyamoto, and he is brought to trial in the local court in the island’s main town. In court, Kabuo sits straight and remains silent. He reminds some people of a Japanese soldier, but his enemies choose to forget that Kabuo fought in the United States army, not for the Japanese.

Ishmael Chambers runs the local newspaper and it is his task to report honestly on the events leading up to the trial and the trial itself. But Ishmael has a personal problem with Kabuo - and with Japanese people generally. His search for truth is a struggle, but he finally understands that although we can never really understand other people, however well we think we know them, the human heart can never be ignored.

People in Guterson’s book have long memories. The historical background of the story is therefore very important. Japanese people were first been invited to work in the United States in the early years of the twentieth century. They were promised work and good money. Although at first their stay was temporary, many settled in Washington state and became fishermen and farmers. These people could not own land, but their children could. The Japanese worked hard and did well. They thought of themselves as Americans, but they kept their old traditions. Of course, they looked different from their neighbours and they were often disliked because of it.

The novel was first published in 1994 and was an immediate success. It had taken the author ten years to write, as he was also teaching in a local school at the time. Guterson has said that the writing of this book was strongly influenced by Harper Lees ‘To Kill a Mocking Bird’, which was published in 1960.

The novel was made into a successful film in 1999.


Text Analysis: Unique words: about 3,000. Total words: about 35,6600
Hard words: acre, cabin, cedar, chamber, coroner, counsel, deceased, defendant, deposit, drip, emerge, folder, gaff, gill-net, lease, lighthouse, mast, pace, precise, prosecute, salmon, saw, sea gull, sheriff, skull, specimen, strawberry, transaction, typeface, verdict



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