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Thursday, August 18, 2011

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

Snow Falling on CedarsSan Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, is a place so isolated that no one who lives there can afford to make enemies. But in 1954 a local fisherman is found suspiciously drowned, and a Japanese American named Kabuo Miyamoto is charged with his murder. In the course of the ensuing trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than a man's guilt. For on San Pedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries - memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and the Japanese girl who grew up to become Kabuo's wife; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbors watched. Gripping, tragic, and densely atmospheric, Snow Falling on Cedars is a masterpiece of suspense - one that leaves us shaken and changed.
First Look: ***** First, let me tell you that I didn't read this book willingly.  Well, I wasn't totally against it, but I would've been reading something else if I had a choice.  This is my summer reading book for Adv. American Literature.  The back blurb didn't really grab my attention, but it didn't look like a bad book, either.  I'm not much for books with court cases anyway.

Setting: *****  
Eh.  It was cold and snowy.  Everybody who didn't fish owned a strawberry farm. There was a very big snowstorm and all the power died. Everybody was either a war veteran or Japanese or both or the wife of the former or latter or both.*  I tried to get a sense from this of the time period, but it just didn't work.  The whole atmosphere was just plain dreary, like the rest of the book.  The sun didn't shine, and not many happy moments turned up.  Yes, maybe it was supposed to be this way, but I didn't really care for it all that much.

Characters: ***** 
I got a good sense of many of the characters.  I started to understand their personalities and their motives and the way they felt about things. They seemed, to me, like actual living people.

Great.  Now that I've said all that, I'm going to say this: I really didn't care for any of them.  I felt like they were either one-sided and only showed one dimension of themselves throughout the entire novel, or they were just plain rude, racist, sexist, annoying, or something equally dis-likable. Some of them didn't seem to have any point in the story whatsoever.  It was really tough to connect with them.  Now, I'm not a war veteran, have never experienced racial prejudice against me, never learned kung-fu, never gotten married, never had an arm amputated, never owned a strawberry farm, or never been on a jury.  But even so, there still should've been something I could connect to. 

The person that rescues this rating from the pit of two-stardom is Ishmael.  Besides the fact that he has a cool name, he was the only one I could really bring myself to like as a character.  During the course of the story, we saw a few different sides to him. But he shouldn't have been the only one.      

Plot: *****
I didn't like how it was strung together. It started with a scene in a courtroom, then went back to a scene from Ishmael's tragic love life, then jumped back to the courtroom, then a disgusting autopsy, and so on. Some of these scenes weren't even relavant to the plot. To me, it just felt jumbled and disconnected, though less boring than just the courtroom scenes all in a row. I will admit that I wasn't sure whether the accused man was guilty or not until pretty close to the end, but that was about all the suspense I got from it. I just didn't get a feeling that the stakes were high. I wanted more tension. I never got it, which was disappointing and annoying.

Uniqueness: ***** 
I felt like this book was trying to be To Kill a Mockingbird, just with Japanese people instead of black people. The whole white-guy-versus-minority-guy thing. I didn't like that book, and I didn't like this one, either.

Writing: *****
So much was added that didn't contribute to the overall book as a whole. For example, the scene with Ishmael during the battle. Gruesome, and definitely not needed. Unneccesary details, and entire unneccesary scenes bogged down the book and made it more boring than it had to be. We don't need a full-page-paragraph on the murdered guy's father's personality to understand the story.

There wasn't anything in the narrative to encourage me to like the plot at all. It felt like the setting: dreary. No clever symbolism or cool turns of phrase or anything like that I would've expected from a book that I was told was "literary". The narrative just didn't connect me from the story: in a way, it did the opposite.

Likes: Nothing that jumps to mind, actually, though reading this book did make me want to eat some strawberries.

Not-so-great: Ugh. I really didn't want to see all that intimacy between various characters. It added nothing at all to the story, and it didn't help the plot move forward. There was no reason at all for it. I don't want to see those things, and I'm sure I'm not alone.

Total Score: 
I didn't care for this book. The story was weirdly jumbled and the plot moved along very slow. The characters did nothing to make me care at all about them. It was a dreary book set in a dreary sort of place. It had so many extra scenes that didn't add to the book. Actually, I might've even given it three stars if not for the added details. On top of it all, I felt like it was trying to be To Kill a Mockingbird, and failing. I wouldn't really bother with this one. I didn't hate it, but I didn't like it either.

*You know, we could really paddle a big boat with all those ors. No, that really wasn't supposed to be funny.

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  1. ...I think I might have to murder you for not liking To Kill a Mockingbird. (Atticus! <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3 <3)

    But this one really doesn't sound any good. I doubt I'll ever read it.

  2. I kept trying to read this book all throughout high school (simply because it was next to my favorite book--Forever by Pete Hamill), but every time I would pick it up, I got bored and left it. I totally agree that this book is slow and altogether lametastic.

  3. @ZNZ: I think my not liking To Kill a Mockingbird has everything to do with the fact that I read it for school, and it took us about three months to get through it as a class, which is waaay too slow for me. If I had read it at my own pace, I probably would've liked it more.

    @Alexis: Yep, it's super-slow.


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