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Book Club: Snow Falling on Cedars Discussion

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Next Tuesday, April 8, 2014 at 6pm in our Stage Door Canteen we will be meeting to discuss Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.

If you can’t join us for this discussion – here are some of the questions we might bring up.  Feel free to answer and start a dialogue in the comments.  We might even introduce some of your thoughts into the discussion if you reply before next Tuesday. (Questions issued by publisher.)


  • In his first description of Carl Heine, Guterson imparts a fair amount of what is seemingly background information. We learn that Carl is considered “a good man.” How do these revealed facts become crucial later on, as mechanisms of plot, as revelations of the dead man’s character, and as clues to San Piedro’s collective mores?
  • Ishmael’s experience in World War II has cost him an arm. How has the war affected other characters in this book, both those who served and those who stayed home?
  • Guterson tells us that “on San Piedro the silent-toiling, autonomous gill-netter became the collective image of the good man”. Thus, Carl’s death comes to signify the death of the island’s ideal citizen: he represents a delayed casualty of the war in which so many other fine young men were killed. To what extent is Carl a casualty of his self-sufficiency?
  • Kabuo and Hatsue also possess–and are at times driven by–certain values. As a young girl, Hatsue is taught the importance of cultivating stillness and composure in order “to seek union with the Greater Life”. Kabuo’s father imparts to him the martial codes of his ancestors. How do these values determine their behavior, and particularly their responses to internment, war, and imprisonment? How do they clash with the values of the Anglo community, even as they sometimes resemble them?
  • Racism is a persistent theme in this novel. It is responsible for the internment of Kabuo, Hatsue, and their families, for Kabuo’s loss of his land, and perhaps for his indictment for murder. In what ways do the book’s Japanese characters respond to the hostility of their white neighbors? How does bigotry manifest itself in the thoughts and behavior of characters like Etta Heine–whose racism is keenly ironic in view of her German origins–Art Moran, and Ishmael himself? Are we meant to see these characters as typical of their place and time?
  • In choosing Kabuo, Hatsue acknowledges “the truth of her private nature”. That choice implies a paradox. For, if Kabuo is a fellow nisei, he is also rooted in the American earth of San Piedro’s strawberry fields. How is this doubleness–between Japanese and American–expressed elsewhere in Snow Falling on Cedars?


Again, we hope you can join us here at the Museum, but we would be delighted for you to take part in the discussion wherever you may be!

Posted by Lauren Handley, Education Programs Coordinator

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