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Arts

September 9, 2013
 

Murder, racism unfold in “Snow Falling on Cedars”

snow_falling_cedars

Snow Falling on Cedars is a 1994 award-winning novel written by American writer David Guterson.

Set on the fictional San Piedro Island in the northern Puget Sound region of the state of Washington coast in 1954, the plot revolves around a murder case in which Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American, is accused of killing Carl Heine, a respected fisherman in the close-knit community. Carl’s body had been pulled from the sea, trapped in his own net, on September 16, 1954. His water-damaged watch had stopped at 1:47. The trial, held in December 1954 during a snowstorm that grips the entire island, occurs in the midst of deep anti-Japanese sentiments following World War II.

Covering the case is the editor of the town’s one-man newspaper, the San Piedro Review, Ishmael Chambers, a World War II US Marine Corps veteran who lost an arm fighting the Japanese at the Battle of Tarawa. Torn by a sense of hatred for the Japanese, Chambers struggles with his love for Kabuo’s wife, Hatsue, and his conscience, wondering if Kabuo is truly innocent. Through extended flashbacks, the reader learns that Ishmael had fallen in love with Hatsue when the two attended high school together right before the War. They had been secretly dating at this time and lost their virginity to each other.

Spearheading the prosecution are the town’s sheriff, Art Moran, and prosecutor, Alvin Hooks. Leading the defense is the old, experienced Nels Gudmondsson.

The Miyamotos lived in a house on the Heines’ land and picked strawberries for Mr. Heine. Kabuo and Carl Heine Jr. were close friends as children. Kabuo’s father eventually approached Heine Sr. about purchasing 7 acres of the farm.  Carl Sr. agreed. The payments were to be made over a ten-year period. However, before the last payment was made, war erupted between the US and Japan following Pearl Harbor, and all islanders of Japanese ancestry were forced to relocate to internment camps.

The novel was published on September 12, 1994, becoming an immediate bestseller and winning 1995’s PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. Snow Falling on Cedars was adapted in 1999 into a film that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography. In 2007 it was adapted for the stage by Kevin McKeon. It received its world premiere at Seattle’s Book-it Repertory Theatre that same year, and a subsequent production at Oregon’s Portland Center Stage in 2010.

Snow Falling on Cedars deals with racism.In addition,  a Canadian Catholic school temporarily removed the book from their shelves due to the book’s sexual content. The book has been challenged, banned, or restricted in several school systems in the United States.



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