Snow Falling on Cedars : A Book Review
Filed Under: Lifestyle, Music & Film | Posted: 04/20/2008 at 12:23AM
Comments | Region: Hawaii | United States
I have never seen snow falling on cedar trees but have seen snow fall over spells in the Himalayas covering every thing in sight gradually with a curtain and a cover of snow. It has a bit of a mystical experience for me – ethereal beauty of certain intensity on one end and a deep sadness and amplification of past losses and regrets that one knows can never be redeemed on the other. But with all this mixture, my reminiscences of snow and snow fall are
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson is one such luminous book where nostalgia, beauty and realism blend. It is another multi layered book, a love story at one level, a court room drama at another and a living history of what it meant to be a Japanese American in the US in the Second World War time and its immediate aftermath. At this last level , it documents the treatment meted out to Americans of Japanese origin at that time and the perennial odyssey of minorities having to prove their loyalty time and again around the world – in different times , contexts and ways- some how, some things sadly never change and perhaps never will. Very deservedly, it had won the PEN/Faulkner award in 1994.
The brooding, lonely some what defeated character of Ishmael Chambers towers over the pages of the novel – a war veteran with one arm amputated and some one who never quite made it in life – but in spite of all the pain that filled his life, a man who never lost his decency and big heartedness. Ishmael is the son of a small time journalist on the tiny island of San Piedro where many Japanese Americans live and where following Pearl Harbor, ethnic stereotyping begins to happen.
As he sees his father valiantly trying to portray other facts in the local newspaper – the story of the many Japanese Americans and there numerous contribution to local society at a time when the flavor of the season is to be xeno phobic, Ishmael and his father discuss some timeless questions about journalism: “Not every fact is just a fact”-he (Ishmael’s father) added.” It’s all a kind of balancing act. A juggling of pins, all sorts of pins that are what journalism is about”. ‘This isn’t journalism.’ Ishmael answered. “Journalism is just the facts.” “But which facts?” Ishmael’s father asked him.” Which facts do we print, Ishmael?”
The unspoken answer is that a true journalist prints all facts and if he has a bias or a tilt, it is to report to highlight, to under line, those facts that others are not reporting, others are pushing under the carpet, that others are perhaps even hiding, a journalist is not just a man with a camera and a pen- he is a man who is called to be an advocate on behalf of those who are unable for one reason or another can not speak for themselves.
The most poignant section of the book is the one dealing with the aborted love story of Ishmael Chambers and the Japanese girl Hatsue Miyamoto, who eventually ends up marrying a man from her Japanese community, partly because of the interruption caused by the war and partly because when push comes to shove, human differences driven by ethnicity, language, race and religion will always remain to haunt us….. seemingly for over. This book of loss, lamentation and grief casts a long shadow indeed.