Snow Falling On Cedars is a cold, damp murder mystery set in the Puget Sound. Most of the story takes place in a courtroom with flashbacks to a teen courtship between the Japanese-American teen, Hatsue, and her Jewish-American lover, Ishmael, at a time before World War II. As war comes and political fervor mounts, Hatsue and her family are banished to an internment camp where she meets and marries a Japanese man. The war ends and Hatsue and her family return to the Sound. Hatsue's husband is accused of murdering a fisherman of German heritage.
The characterizations in Snow Falling On Cedars rank as high as the plot and give the reader the sense of living in the United States after the war was over. The history of the Japanese-Americans and the historical value of this book became more poignant after visiting the Japanese-American Museum in Los Angeles' Little Tokyo. While touring, I met two Japanese-American women who were as curious about my perspective of the museum as I was of theirs. They had been in internment camps like the one described in Guterson's novel. These women were not bitter, they came to terms with racial differences similar to the harmony that wins the case in Snow Falling On Cedars.