The old paperback copy of Snow Falling on Cedars that I just finished reading had languished on both my own and my classroom bookshelves for years after appearing in a box of donated books. The novel had won a PEN/Faulkner Award in the mid-’90s, and the movie adaptation was released in ’99. I was in college when the novel was new, so of course I saw the movie back then. But COVID-19 has given me more time at home than I could have wanted, so I finally picked it up and read it.
Snow Falling on Cedars is an exceptionally well-written novel and deserves the award it received. The story centers on a murder trial in 1954 in a small fishing village in the Northwest, where a local man Carl Heine, Jr. is found dead in his fishing nets after being knocked in the head. The prime suspect is Japanese, and his beef with the victim’s family is generational, based on a lease-to-own land deal that went bad after Pearl Harbor and the internments during World War II. Although the main story is a murder mystery at its core, Guterson veers off into back stories that explore issues of race, identity, immigration, politics, war, conscience, family, and interracial romance. The writing is impressive, and the storytelling winds through times and places only to converge back in a small town courtroom where it is snowing outside. I’m sorry that I waited so long to read this novel, and now I need to rewatch the movie to compare the two.