Snow Falling on Cedar by David Guterson

Rating:                              9.5

General Rating: It’s as if I just finished a classic. This book is tremendous.

Skip factor:  I skipped about 4%, when the author elaborated on fishing and the area. I anxiously scanned ahead to read more about Ishmael, Hatsue, and the trial.

Who should read:  Both men and women and certainly, if you like the classics, you’ll love this. Fishermen, sailors, people who love islands or the coast will enjoy and may even relish the few spots I flipped quickly by. War-story lovers might like. While it isn’t about the war, the consequences of the war markedly affect the characters.

Summary: On San Piedro Island, north of Puget Sound, a boy, Ishmael Chambers, the son of a newspaperman, falls in love with a Japanese-American girl, Hatsue. When Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, the world as they know it is forever changed.

Despite being American and because of their Japanese descent, Hatsue and her family are sent to live in the barracks of a camp at Manzanar. The story reveals what Japanese-Americans lost and endured during the war. It follows Hatsue’s journey along with Ishmael, who joins the army to fight the Japanese.

When Hatsue writes a letter to Ishmael saying she no longer wants to be with him and admits she never truly loved him, the passion for life bestowed on him by his parents, withers. During battle, he nearly dies, but lives and is forced to live with the consequences of his injuries. He returns to San Piedro, follows in his father’s footsteps, and heads the town’s newspaper.

Fast forward to San Piedro after the war. There, when a fisherman dies suspiciously, Hatsue’s Japanese-American husband is accused of murder, and Hatsue’s and Ishmael’s paths cross once again.

Characters:  While I can’t say I loved these characters, they inspired me and drew more compassion from me than most characters in other books. Ishmael and Hatsue along with Hatsue’s husband, the charged man, Kabuo, showed great strength throughout life, perhaps Kabuo more than the other two. They were realistic, well-developed souls.

I respected the main characters along with the others on the Island, who came and went with eloquent timing and description. In particular, I liked Ishmael’s mother, who, in her few lines, displayed an easy acceptance of, yet zest for life.   

Storyline: At the risk of being repetitive, I’ll say this is a touching story, many times told, but from an unusually eloquent writer. It reads like a classic. It’s a tale of love, loss, the consequences of war, culture, and discrimination—“the course of things.”

Writing:  The writing is magnificent, and I’m in awe of this author. While I called attention to his wordiness regarding the fishing and the sea in my skip factor, this is truly the fault of the reviewer not Guterson. (I give it a 9.5 instead of a 10 only because of my shortcomings.)

This novel truly deserves its awards and accolades.

Read this author again? Oh, my goodness, yes.

Read on!


CJ Zahner is the author of The Suicide Gene, a psychological thriller, Dream Wide Awake, and Project Dream, two thrillers that carry a sixth-sense paranormal element, and Friends Who Move Couches, women’s fiction. These last two novels were inspired by Zahner’s own experiences. See the video of her own paranormal experience, a premonition of 9/11 here. Download her Beyond Reality Radio podcast here. Follow her on InstagramTwitterFacebookGoodreadsBookBub, or LinkedIn. Purchase her books on Amazon