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Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
Published by
Bloomsbury Publishing Plc., London.

This is the first novel by David Guterson and was published as a 'whodunit'. I suppose it is, but it is much more than your average thriller. The story is set in San Piedro "an island of five thousand damp souls, named by lost Spaniards who moored offshore in the year 1603……a work detail sent ashore were murdered almost immediately upon setting foot on the beach by a party of Nootka slave raiders." He traces the history of the island and the arrival of various settlers over the years to this island on the Pacific coast of North America. He sketches the imprint each new wave of settlers makes on the Island and the interaction and prejudices of the different communities towards one another in the wake of the Second World War.

The story opens on the first week of December in a courtroom "down at the end of a damp, drafty hallway on the third floor of the Island County Courthouse". Seated at the defendant's table is Kabuo Miyamoto, a salmon gill-netter, accused of the murder of Carl Heine, also a salmon gill-netter. While the book is the story of the resolution of how Carl met his death it is also the story of the integration of different nationalities into the fabric of American life and the tensions that result from the interaction of different beliefs and religions within small isolated communities.

Both Kabou and Carl were war veterans - Kabou served in Europe and Carl in the Pacific. These two men, who had been friends before the War, came back to their families changed by the experiences they had undergone. After the War it was never clear "if Carl and Kabuo were friends or enemies." Their view of one another is coloured by their war experiences - Carl sees Kabou as one of the "goddam Jap sons a - " that he fought against, while Kabou killed "pig-fed Nazi bastards" who looked just like Carl. Neither man finds it easy to see the other as an American, reared and rooted in the same Community in spite of different ancestral backgrounds.

The novel is beautifully written. Guterson has crafted his descriptions of place so skilfully that the reader can almost feel the cold misery of the December weather. He is also very skilful in portraying the claustrophobic atmosphere of the small Island Community, where everyone knows one another and lives in close proximity with one another. It is almost a parable on human nature - Guterson's characters behave the way they do because of who they are and how they have been raised. Overall, this is a book well worth reading.

Reviewed by Marie, a Clare County Library staff member.