Yesterday’s winter storm was a fitting prelude to discussions of Snow Falling on Cedars during the Avid Reader Toolkit program. We opened with a fascinating presentation about Japanese culture and beliefs led by Masanouri Takeda, managing director of the Japan-America Society of West Michigan, and a member of the Reading Together Steering Committee. Mr. Takeda explained that Western culture’s belief in God has developed “independent humans” seeking to avoid guilt. Japanese culture, on the other hand, has developed “social oriented humans” who seek to avoid shame. He went on to explain that the exclusion and incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II was particularly painful because it meant they were being separated from society.
Next, we delved into the book with Sherry Ransford Ramsdell, retired English teacher from Kalamazoo Central High School and longtime Reading Together volunteer. Ms. Ramsdell began by showing five types of conflict present in Snow Falling on Cedars, all of which are played out on many levels: Person vs person, person vs society, person vs nature, person vs self, and person vs machine. She praised David Guterson for his “well developed characters,” which contribute to the book’s complex dramatic tension. And even though the characters are developed to the point that readers may think they understand them well, the story is told from a limited omniscient perspective. You don’t know everything, just a little. Because we are not given every character’s thoughts and actions, we are treated to a wonderfully rich experience.
Snow Falling on Cedars