Set in the decade following WWII, Snow Falling on Cedars takes place on San Piedro Island off the coast of Washington. The island has a large population of Japanese immigrants who were taken to internment camps during the war. The story deals with the great prejudice leveled against these residents of the island.
Kabuo Miyamoto is a first generation American veteran who is on trial for murder. Although the police have some circumstantial evidence, the strongest evidence they have against him is the fact that he is Japanese. Ishmael Chambers is the owner of the newspaper and uncovers evidence that could possibly free Kabuo, but his past with Kabuo's wife, Hatsue, makes it difficult for him to know what to do. Does he do what he knows is right? Or does he let the prejudice from the loss of Hatsue's love and his arm fighting against the Japanese keep him from doing what he knows he should?
This story jumps between the trial, the days leading up to the murder, and the teen years of the main characters. Although this seems like it might get confusing, the author moves seamlessly between the different time periods.
The book does contain several pretty graphic sex scenes. If these bother you, then you can skip ahead and not really miss much of the story. I would be reluctant to turn the book over to a teen, though, even though I think they could gain much from the story.
The story highlights a dark time in the history of our country that, although we all know about, we really don't talk about much. This time period in our history was, of course, very similar to the days and months surrounding 9/11. I clearly remember similar sentiments expressed towards Muslims in our country during that time (and still today). Thankfully, we as a country didn't repeat the mistakes of our past and give in to the fear. Many individuals, though, do still live lives full of prejudice and fear. Just because their faces were Japanese didn't make them killers and spies. And today, just because someone is of Arabic descent doesn't make them a terrorist.
We all see the world through our own eyes, which is heavily influenced by our culture. It is so easy to view a different culture as not just different, but wrong. Although we might not fully understand another culture, I do think we can try to understand that a culture in and of itself is not right or wrong. We need to not paint the world with such a wide brush. We need to find common ground with one another and embrace the differences. We need to not let our prejudices blind us to the truth.
First Line: The accused man, Kabuo Miyamoto, sat proudly upright with a rigid grace, his palms placed softly on the defendant's table - the posture of a man who has detached himself insofar as this is possible at his own trial.
Last Line: Ishmael gave himself to the writing of it, and as he did so he understood this, too: that accident ruled every corner of the universe except the chambers of the human heart.