On Snow Falling On Cedars by David Guterson

A drama of life, love, death, and hatred, about the plight of the veterans and Japanese Americans during World War II. This is one of those critically acclaimed stories that seems to me to have something missing. The characters have depth, everything is technically and artistically wonderful, but it doesn't touch my heart as it does others'.


The book's main device is to build character depth through reminiscence. We learn the history of each character and so understand his/her role in the present-day courtroom drama that ties the book together. It's effective. However, it gives an impression of lackadaisical pacing similar to that usually caused by overlong descriptive passages.

The writing is transparent and unpretentious, leaving the author's meaning clearly exposed, and thereby putting a strong focus on the characters and the story. Also effective.

Lack Of Connection

This story should be meaningful to me. I can empathize with the characters to some degree, and I am half-Japanese so one would think there'd be an extra bond there; still, it didn't hit home. The book explores its ideas adeptly, but of course we all know how bigotry works, especially in small towns, we've seen it a million times; we also know what adjustment problems veterans have to face. Same old same old.

The problem is the same that I have with many such books: I'm either too worldly, so I find the issues threadbare; or I'm too inexperienced, so that I can't build rapport with the characters. I'm not sure which. I can see what the characters feel, but I don't really feel it with them.

I think this is due to the format of jumping from one character viewpoint to another, which gives the story a quality I also dislike in short stories. Multiple-protagonist books never give me the several focused chapters that I need to get into a character.

Without this identification with the characters, I'm left emotionally drifting, seeing what the author is trying to say, but unable to feel it. Without a visceral understanding of the horror and ecstasy of the characters, I can't take the next step to feeling my own emotions of pity or guilt for my responsibility, as an American, for their situation.

All that aside, the bottom line is that Snow an excellent drama: enjoyable, but not exactly pleasant; with suspense, but a bit slow-moving for a mystery.

Substantive changes:
    June 13, 1996: created.
Copyright © 1996, Steve Colwell, All Rights Reserved
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