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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson, 1995, * * * * *

Snow Falling on Cedars, set on a scenic island off Washington State, known for its fishing and its strawberries, begins and ends with the trial of Kabuo Miyamoto who is charged with the murder of fellow islander and fisherman Carl Heine. Taking place just after World War II, the novel deals with lingering wartime prejudices when the island's Japanese Americans were "resettled" in California for the duration of the fighting and when even those white islanders who might have once been favorably disposed to their Japanese counterparts struggle to reconcile their post-war relationships with their neighbors after the war. Guterson takes on so much with this novel starting with the trial at the center of the book. He explores a forbidden affair, intense prejudice, war wounds of both the physical and emotional sort, hopes, dreams, struggles, and finally the healing of a community. The narrative flows seamlessly between past and present and from trial testimony to deeply personal memories with vivid prose that makes it possible to see, smell, and even taste the surroundings of San Piedro Island. A phenomenal West Coast bestseller, winner of the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award and the PEN/Faulkner Award,  this enthralling novel is at once a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, the story of a doomed love affair, and a stirring meditation on place, prejudice, and justice.

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