Lauren’s Library Nook: “Snow Falling On Cedars”

I‘m not a history gal. Aside from math, history was my least favorite subject in school. Not that I don’t appreciate history, I do, but studying ancient periods, dates and dead presidents bores me out of my mind.

However, in “Snow Falling on Cedars,” set in 1954, David Guterson kindled an interest when he wrote about an overlooked time in American history — the anniversary of the Japanese Bombing of Pearl Harbor.

The book follows Kabuo Miyamoto, a husband and father, who goes on trial for the murder of Carl Heine, a known fisherman and war veteran in the area. 

Because of the anti-Japanese prejudice that resulted from the Pearl Harbor bombing, Kabuo fears an unfair trial – even though he fought on the American side in World War II, it doesn’t change his Japanese roots.

Although “Snow Falling on Cedars” is loosely based on historical events, it still attributes to an American period that kids don’t typically learn about in the classroom. Prior to reading this book in high school, I had never learned (to my knowledge) of a post-war prejudice against Japanese-Americans that led to the development of internment camps.

As the story unfolds, Guterson reveals that Kabuo did see Carl on the night of his death, but he was not the cause of it. Instead, Kabuo helped Carl, who was fishing on a foggy night and ran out of power. It wasn’t until after Kabuo left that a freighter passing by created a huge wake, knocking Carl unconscious, leading to his death by drowning.

Thus, proving to the readers that Kabuo is innocent while leaving the characters of the story convinced that he committed the crime.

But what excites me most about Guterson’s book is the character of Ishmael Chambers — a journalist for the San Piedro Review, the town newspaper. As a journalism major, I find Ishmael’s role as an investigative journalist crucial in ensuring that the trial of Kabuo is presented fairly. Ultimately, Ishmael could easily become the deciding factor of whether Kabuo will be set free from accusation.

When I realized the impact of his role as a journalist, it brought me full circle to the impact I could have as well.

I love the quote by Helen Thomas, an American reporter where she says, “We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers.”

Ishmael discovers the logbook that proves a freighter passed through the same channel at the time Carl was on his boat — moments before he died. What’s critical is Ishmael has all he needs to prove Kabuo’s innocence, but will his bitterness towards Kabuo’s wife (who broke his heart much earlier on in life) stand in the way of his honesty and serve as an act of revenge?

I’ve already spoiled much of the book, so I won’t spoil the outcome of the trial, but I believe we can all learn something from Ishmael’s character and the opportunity to come forward with the truth, even if it might not be the most popular thing to do (considering the prejudice of that period).

As Christians, we live in a secular culture where our morals are often outnumbered and are no longer the “cool” thing to live by. However, through Scripture, we know that God’s truth doesn’t change regardless of how progressive the world gets. 

Thus, like Ishmael, we too are called to live out the truth and demonstrate the love of Christ, even to the point of rejection. Just as Ishmael may face backlash if he helps prove Kabuo innocence, we are also subject to persecution as Christ-followers. 

But the “job” description of both a journalist and a Christian remain the same regardless of the consequences — to tell the truth to the world. 

Shank is the Editor-in-Chief. Follow her on Twitter

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