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Thu, Oct. 28th, 2004, 12:52 pm
ajmcoqui: Snow Falling on Cedars

I was quite impressed with this book.  I finished it this morning, and I have some comments which .

I had a tough time getting into the story.  The writing is very visual, almost tactile, but it felt (to me) like the author was forcing it a bit, hitting me over the head with the visual effects rather than presenting them subtly and gradually, as I thought the setting deserved.  But it wasn't fatal, just a little distracting.

Once in the story, I got caught up in it pretty thoroughly.  This book is about emotions, especially love, pain, and the post-traumatic reactions of the island men who fought in WWII.  I found myself getting frustrated with the prejudice and hate in the story, as I do with same in real life, and by the middle of the book, I'd got emotionally invested in the characters, especially Hatsue, the wife of the accused man.  I appreciated that the author took such care to make his main characters distinct and 3-dimensional, and to recognize that no one can see into another's heart.  I found many of the auxilliary characters to be rather flat, but there's only so much you can do in the limited space of a 450-page book.  I also thought the legal proceedings were a bit shoddy - what real-life defense attourney wouldn't have looked up the Coast Guard records for the night in question, which would have averted the entire trial? - but they were balanced by a rich exploration of character and location, which the author obviously thought was more important than the details of the events of the present-day.  The fact of the trial, and the different characters' reactions to it, was more important than the content of the trial.  An interesting choice on the author's part, and a reasonable one based on his focus - the human psyche.  The rest is just window dressing.

So all in all, I liked the book.  I enjoyed the story, though the end seemed to wrap everything up rather too quickly after all the verbose, drawn-out description that preceeded it (the mystery part ran for the first 31 chapters, over 444 pages; the solution took 1 chapter and 15 pages).  Things I particularly appreciated in the book were Ishmael's angst over whether to reveal the Coast Guard log, Hatsue's recognition of her own nature, the descriptions of Ishmael's father, and the stories of the lives of the Japanese immigrants who came to the island in the decades before the war.  While I found the author's writing style distracting, I do think he has a way with emotion and the story of an individual, and what makes him/her tick.  I'd definitely recommend the book to someone who has not read it.