Wednesday, 12 December 2012
DAVID GUTERSON - SNOW FALLING ON CEDARS (1994)
I've had this on my bookshelf probably 15 years or so, ever since one of my sister's bought it for me as either a birthday or Christmas present. It was the sort of book that you went, hmmm that's nice, all the while thinking I'd have preferred socks. I have tried a couple of times over the intervening period to get into it, but it was always discarded after a chapter or two.
Anyway, this time with a new found resolve, to reduce the "stop-start-put aside" pile, I tried again.
Extremely glad I did, as it was well worth the effort.
I'm fairly sure this book appears on those lists of 100 best books or 100 books to read before you die type thing and did win the PEN/FAULKNER award for fiction in 1995.
Cutting to the chase, Guterson writes of a mixed community; American and Japanese-American still divided and struggling to deal with the aftermath of Pearl Harbour and the Second World War. The Japanese interned shortly after Pearl Harbour, losing everything and dependent on the goodwill of those more charitable neighbours who viewed them as friends and fellow Americans and not as an inscrutable Oriental enemy to be feared.
A truncated mixed race and clandestine teenage love story, which along with a land-deal that gets reneged on when the Japanese-Americans are interned, festers over the years in the hearts and minds of the protagonists.
Guterson explores racism and discrimination both from an institutional level with a large swage of the Japanese community unable to legally become landowners and on an individual basis where neighbour mistrusts neighbour because of the happenings of the previous ten years.
With a fisherman found dead in his nets, and a cursory investigation leading to his Japanese childhood friend, who was supposedly at loggerheads with him over the previously lost land, the murder trial allows the resentments and grievances of the past to resurface.
Guterson's writing is very descriptive and he brings the plot slowly to the boil, rather than providing a fast paced read. The sense of isolation on the island when the storm gathers is palpable.
Usually one of my yardsticks of measuring enjoyment from a book is to ask myself if I want to read more from the author. In this case, probably not, having read a selection of his short stories either late last year, or earlier on in this one. No particular reason why - maybe too many other books to consider.
Still very well written and enjoyable though,
4 from 5......not such a bad present from my sister after all!