Modern Masters, PEN/Faulkner Prize, Prizes

Snow Falling On Cedars – David Guterson – 9/10

I write this review confined to the sofa by
one of the worst toe-stubbings I have suffered… fortunately Mr. RFBT rescued
the bolognese that was bubbling away on the stove.

This PEN/Faulkner
winner from 1995
impressed me enormously. I wasn’t surprised to discover
that the author lives on an island in the location in which the book is set
(the island on which the book is set is not necessarily real, I don’t know, but
it is very clearly based on a real place) because he captures the essence of
island living, of isolated communities with their epic feuds and total lack of
anonymity. I was fascinated by the place itself – a hybrid of Nordic and
Japanese communities, shrouded in fog and snow. Given the author’s surname I
would guess that this social mix is also real.

Snow Falling on Cedars reminded me very
much of Atonement – a forbidden love, disturbed by disaster, a third party
wishing things had been different, some time spent graphically at war. The main
plot line is the court case (in 1954) in which Kabuo Miyamoto is accused of
killing Carl Heine over seven acres of land in a deal gone bad over a number of
generations. The undercurrent is the relationship (or rather, lack thereof)
between the local reporter and the accused’ s wife Hatsue, from childhood
through to the court case – and the bad feeling left in every relationship by
the outbreak of war and the ensuing internment of Japanese Americans.

I would have given this 10/10 but for two
factors: I thought the war section was badly written – unnecessarily graphic,
in fact just unnecessary; and that Ishmael (the reporter) is a surprisingly
apathetic narrator.

I’m going to make a quick plug for Bookmooch at this point – I mooched
this book from Japan and it arrived in excellent condition. I love being a
member of Bookmooch – I save money on buying books, I know that my outgoing
books are going to loving homes, and every now and again I receive a book with
a postcard, photograph or something else personal in it. I never used to buy or
read second hand books but I love the idea that others have sat enthralled by
the very same pages. Bookmooch is not-for-profit and run (entirely?) on
goodwill, so even though I’m pretty sure I’m typing into a void of nothingness
in terms of readership, I hope that people will join up!