In 1954, a fisherman is found dead in the nets of his boat, and a local Japanese-American man is charged with his murder. In the course of his trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than one man's guilt. For on San Piedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries - memories of a charmed love affair between a whi...
In 1954, a fisherman is found dead in the nets of his boat, and a local Japanese-American man is charged with his murder. In the course of his trial, it becomes clear that what is at stake is more than one man's guilt. For on San Piedro, memory grows as thickly as cedar trees and the fields of ripe strawberries - memories of a charmed love affair between a white boy and a Japanese girl; memories of land desired, paid for, and lost. Above all, San Piedro is haunted by the memory of what happened to its Japanese residents during World War II, when an entire community was sent into exile while its neighbours watched.
This is the kind of book where you can smell and hear and see the fictional world the writer has created, so palpably does the atmosphere come through. Set on an island in the straits north of Puget Sound, in Washington, where everyone is either a fisherman or a berry farmer, the story is nominally about a murder trial. But since it's set in the 1950s, lingering memories of World War II, internment camps and racism helps fuel suspicion of a Japanese-American fisherman, a lifelong resident of the islands. It's a great story, but the primary pleasure of the book is Guterson's renderings of the people and the place.
From Publishers Weekly
First-novelist Guterson presents a multilayered courtroom drama set in the aftermath of the internment of Japanese-Americans during WWII.
From Library Journal
Japanese American Kabuo Miyomoto is arrested in 1954 for the murder of a fellow fisherman, Carl Heine. Miyomoto's trial, which provides a focal point to the novel, stirs memories of past relationships and events in the minds and hearts of the San Piedro Islanders. Through these memories, Guterson illuminates the grief of loss, the sting of prejudice triggered by World War II, and the imperatives of conscience. With mesmerizing clarity he conveys the voices of Kabuo's wife, Hatsue, and Ishmael Chambers, Hatsue's first love who, having suffered the loss of her love and the ravages of war, ages into a cynical journalist now covering Kabuo's trial. The novel poetically evokes the beauty of the land while revealing the harshness of war, the nuances of our legal system, and the injustice done to those interned in U.S. relocation camps. Highly recommended for all fiction collections.
A 1954 murder trial in an island community off the coast of Washington state broadens into an exploration of war, race, and the mysteries of human motivation. The dead man, Carl Heine, his accused murderer, Kabuo Miyomoto, and the one-man staff of the local newspaper, Ishmael Chambers, were all scarred by their experiences in World War II but resumed normal-seeming lives upon their return to the fishing and strawberry-farming community of San Piedro in Puget Sound. While fishermen Heine and Miyomoto set about raising families, the newspaperman remains alone and apart, alienated by the loss of an arm and a childhood love, who married Miyomoto. Chambers comes upon information that could alter the verdict of the trial if presented or change his own life if suppressed, creating a private trial as momentous as the public one, with the outcome as much in doubt. Guterson's first novel is compellingly suspenseful on each of its several levels.
From Kirkus Reviews
Old passions, prejudices, and grudges surface in a Washington State island town when a Japanese man stands trial for the murder of a fisherman in the 1950s. Guterson (The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind, 1989, etc.) has written a thoughtful, poetic first novel, a cleverly constructed courtroom drama with detailed, compelling characters. Many years earlier, Kabuo Miyamoto's family had made all but the last payment on seven acres of land they were in the process of buying from the Heine family. Then the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, and Kabuo's family was interned. Etta Heine, Carl's mother, called off the deal. Kabuo served in the war, returned, and wanted his land back. After changing hands a few times, the land ended up with Carl Heine. When Carl, a fisherman, is found drowned in his own net, all the circumstantial evidence, with the land dispute as a possible motive, points to Kabuo as the murderer. Meanwhile, Hatsue Miyamoto, Kabuo's wife, is the undying passion of Ishmael Chambers, the publisher and editor of the town newspaper. Ishmael, who returned from the war minus an arm, can't shake his obsession for Hatsue any more than he can ignore the ghost pains in his nonexistent arm. As a thick snowstorm whirls outside the courtroom, the story is unburied. The same incidents are recounted a number of times, with each telling revealing new facts. In the end, justice and morality are proven to be intimately woven with beauty--the kind of awe and wonder that children feel for the world. But Guterson communicates these truths through detail, not philosophical argument: Readers will come away with a surprising store of knowledge regarding gill-netting boats and other specifics of life in the Pacific Northwest. Packed with lovely moments and as compact as haiku--at the same time, a page-turner full of twists. (Author tour)