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Monday, 22 February 2016

Review: Snow Falling on Cedars, David Guterson

A snowstorm on the fictional island of San Piedro off the Western coast of the US is the setting for this literary crime novel. It is 1954 and a man called Kabuo Miyamoto stands accused of killing a fellow local fisherman, Carl Heine.

The story flits between the present day courtroom and flashbacks of the principal characters, both those a part of the case and those watching for various reasons. The story feels quite slow to get started, due to the author's detailed and meticulous description of every little thing, it seems like, but once the characters and the case are properly introduced, the story feels a little more rewarding.

This is not just a murder case, however. World War 2 and Pearl Harbour do not seem that long ago, and distrust of the Japanese are still evident - in fact, it is, in part, what the prosecution builds his case around. Romance between two of the characters as children is tainted by their communities' mutual distrust. Identity as a theme is explored deeply, not least with the Japanese whom have made the USA their home and are heartbroken when they are forcibly sent back to Japan.

This is definitely more than just a simple murder mystery. The flashbacks add so much more to a court case that is interesting on its own - Kabuo and his family; Kabuo's wife, Hatsue, and her family; Ishmael (Hatsue's childhood sweetheart); Carl Heine's mother and father. These people weave in and out of each other's lives leaving marks and memories that cannot be easily as swept away as the Japanese are to the country of their parents.

There were some difficulties with this book, however. It's definitely a story that you need to invest a lot in before it seems there is any pay-off. The vast swathes of description sometimes detract from the meat of the story and it can't always be argued as necessary.

Despite this, the people, their lives and their fates, are compelling and rewarding enough to keep going to the end of the novel.

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