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Snow Falling on Cedars is a novel written by American writer David Guterson. Guterson, who at the time was a teacher, wrote the book in the early morning hours over a ten-year period. Because of the success of the novel, however, he quit his job and began to write full-time.


Set on the fictional San Piedro Island in the northern Puget Soundmarker region of the state of Washingtonmarker 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. His water-damaged watch had stopped at 1:47. The trial 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, Ishmael Chambers, a World War II veteran who lost an arm fighting the Japanese. 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.

Spearheading the prosecution are the town's sheriff, Art Moran, and prosecutor, Alvin Hooks. Leading the defense is the old, experienced Nels Gudmondsson. An underlying theme throughout the trial is prejudice. Several witnesses, including Etta Heine, Carl's mother, accuse Kabuo of murdering Carl for racial and personal reasons. Etta is stereotypical anti-Japanese; she represents the part of America that persecuted Japanese Americans during the Second World War. This stance is not without irony, as Kabuo Miyamoto (a decorated war veteran of the 442nd Regimental Combat Team), experienced prejudice because of his ancestry, following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbormarker. As Etta Heine is a German American, by the same standard she could be blamed for German war crimes.

Also involved in the trial are Horace Whaley, the town coroner, and Ole Jurgensen, an elderly man who sells his strawberry field to Carl. The strawberry field is contested in the trial. The land was originally owned by Carl Heine Sr. 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 of the farm. Though Etta opposed the sale, 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. In 1944, Carl Sr. died due to a heart attack and Etta Heine sold the land to Ole Jurgensen. When Kabuo returned after the war, he was extremely bitter towards Etta for reneging on the land sale. When Ole Jurgensen suffered a stroke and decided to sell the farm, he was approached by Carl Heine Jr., hours before Kabuo arrived to try to buy the land back. During the trial, the disputed land is presented as a family feud and the motivation behind Carl's murder.

Ishmael's search of the maritime records reveals on the night that Carl Heine died a freighter had passed through the channel where Carl had been fishing at 1:42am, just five minutes before his watch had stopped. Ishmael realises that Carl was likely to have been thrown overboard by the force of the freighter's wake. Despite the bitterness he feels as Hatsue's rejected lover, Ishmael comes forward with the new information. Further evidence is collected in support of the conclusion that Carl had climbed the boat's mast to cut down a lantern, been knocked from the mast by the freighter's wake, hit his head, then fallen into the sea. The charges against Kabuo Miyamoto are dismissed.


  • Ishmael Chambers, editor town paper
  • Kabuo Miyamoto, Japanese-American war internee, the accused, Fisherman
  • Hatsue Miyamoto, Kabuo's wife
  • Carl Heine Junior, fisherman and murder victim
  • Art Moran, town sheriff
  • Alvin Hooks, prosecutor
  • Nels Gudmundsson, defense lawyer
  • Horace Whaley, the town coroner
  • Carl Heine Senior, Carl's father
  • Etta Heine, Carl's mother and wife of Carl Heine Senior
  • Ole Jurgensen, elderly strawberry farmer
  • Zenhichi Miyamoto, Kabuo's father and Strawberry farmer


Some Catholic schools have temporarily removed the book from their shelves.

Literary notes

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 also deals with racism. Snow Falling on Cedars was adapted in 1999 into a film that was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Cinematography.


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