In the place where I work a book exchange system operates. Basically, in each of the kitchenettes, there is an old office bookcase upon which employees can deposit old books they have finished with and pick up any they are interested in. It’s a good idea, and a very simple one; all if takes is an old book case and a notice informing staff that they can take / deposit books from the shelves.

Anyway, the reason I mention all this here is that my latest read originated from this work kitchenette book exchange. It’ s Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.

I don’t think I’d heard of the author or the novel before picking this book up, but I was intrigued by the cover, by the synopsis I read on the back and by the fact that the novel had been awarded the Pen / Faulkner Award, so I decided to try it out.

Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson

The novel opens with a man standing in a packed courtroom of a small Pacific island, accused of murder. The accused is Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese American, and the year is 1954 – not so very long after the attack on Pearl Harbor and the ensuing involvement of America in the second world war.

From this beginning through to the end of the tale, Guterson weaves a chapter or two of courtroom drama with a chapter or two containing flashbacks to key events in the lives of the central characters. It is a technique he employs well, ensuring that the tension remains high as little by little the reader learns more about the individuals of this small island and the relationships between them.

I won’t write too much more about plot as I wouldn’t want to give anything away. What I will say is that it is a very compelling read and is also very well written. Guterson draws his characters in detail and the life of the island and its fisherman is vividly brought to life.

I notice from looking up some information about the author on Wikipedia that Guterson was a teacher and that he wrote the book in the early morning hours over a ten-year period. I love that fact. It shows a passion and a dedication and a need to simply write. Inspiring.

If you liked this, you might also enjoy: Donna Tartt’s The Secret History.