Being from the South, I often think of racism as a black/white dispute above all else. It is hard not to being from a state with history of racism that runs as deep as any other aspect of our defining South Carolinian culture. I still read about it in the news and see it live as much as it pains me to acknowledge. “Snow Falling on Cedars” was an incredible book because it opened my eyes to the racism the Japanese-Americans faced before, during and after World War 2.
Like any other country, America has its dark secrets and a past it certainly wishes it could change. The internment of Japanese-Americans during World War 2 is one of our darkest. But, I must say that I cannot understand what it was like after Pearl Harbor. I suppose the only thing I could liken that experience to would be the way I might have perceived someone from Afghanistan if I had met them shortly after the 9.11 terrorist attacks. The depth of fear is vast and I cannot promise that I would have been unafraid if this encounter had occurred. That being said, I have no idea how hard it would have been to squelch feelings of hatred and fear after Pearl Harbor.
I learned in my history classes that the hatred of the Japanese-Americans after Pearl Harbor ran deep, that it still lingers in some of the living soldiers who fought on Japanese soil during World War 2. I also know that the American government did not take any action to atone for the mistreatment of the interned Japanese-Americans until recent years, with the first reparations issued in 1990 and a formal apology from the government in 1999—some fifty plus years later.
It is dumbfounding to acknowledge that it took our country fifty years to take this step.
With all of these thoughts in mind, “Snow Falling on Cedars” is an excellent story that captures the essence of this time in our dark history. It takes place in the state of Washington, in small, coastal community that thrives on fishing for salmon and growing strawberries. There are many first-generation Japanese immigrants there who can trace their lineage to the Samurai and other rich, cultural traditions that they carried with them when they migrated to our country.
The Japanese-Americans found their place in the community and develop a strong relationship with the people there. However, as the tensions of a looming war with Japan increased to a fever pitch after Pearl Harbor, fear enveloped the community and their friends and neighbors became spies and enemies.
The heart of the story centers on the murder trial of Kabuo Miyamoto who was accused of killing Carl Heine, a white fisherman and Miyamoto’s childhood friend, adult enemy.
The story is incredibly well-written and I found myself reading certain sentences over because they were so beautifully spoken. I will not express anything else about the plot because it should be experienced raw, with little expectation for what you should hope to experience.
“Snow Falling on Cedars” challenged me to research that time in our history and educate myself on the mistakes that we made as a country. Perhaps we can all learn something from them that can be applied to our perceptions and attitudes that we have today.
**The book was made into a movie that was released in 1999 but I have not yet watched it. I plan to Netflix it soon and will report back on what I think**