Wednesday, 12 December 2012


Blurb.......In 1954 a fisherman is found dead in the nets of his boat, and a local Japanese-American man is charged with his murder. In the course of his trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than one man's guilt. For on San Piedro, memories grow as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries - memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and a Japanese girl; 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 neighbours watched

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!


  1. I read this book years ago. I enjoyed it but not as much as many others who were reading it at the time. Glad your sister gave you such an enjoyable present.

  2. Sarah, thanks - it's a shame but me and my sisters have stopped buying each other presents now!

  3. Nice to see this review pop up, Col - I like your ventures into blog history anyway, but also I am going to assume that I inspired this unearthing, as we were talking about the subject of Japanese experience in WW2 USA. Anyway - good book, and I agree with you. I did read another by him, but this is the one I will always remember.

    1. You know I always try and hat-tip you when I can, but I'm going through my old blog posts anyway and this was the next one in the queue after some of November, 2012 reads - Jim Nisbet, Mark Sullivan etc and the iconic E.L. James. I read some short stories by him, but I think I'm happy to leave it at that.

  4. Glad you enjoyed this, Col. Just because a book gets good reviews doesn't always mean one's going to like it (or that it's even very good). Nice to hear you thought this one was a solid read.

    1. Margot, I agree. Nice to find the mostly high praise for this one was merited on this occasion.