Reading Together Blog
The treatment of Japanese Americans during World War II is a central theme of Snow Falling on Cedars. The book and its events are ideal springboards for discussions about race and racism. But it’s not always comfortable to talk about these subjects, and so people sometimes retreat.
One of our partner organizations is the Kalamazoo YWCA, the first and oldest YWCA in Michigan. Following a mission to eliminate racism and empower women, the YWCA offers a number of programs about racism and diversity. Maria Drawhorn, YWCA’s Chief Program Officer, very deftly led a conversation about race March 2. Beginning with a discussion of characters and incidents in Snow Falling on Cedars, she then moved to questions that allowed participants to examine how racism can be systemic or institutionalized. When participants were put into small group discussions, they seemed reluctant to stop talking.
The Kalamazoo community will be talking about race and racism over the next year. Snow Falling on Cedars was selected as a complementary prelude to an exhibit opening in October 2010. Race: Are We So Different? uses history, science and stories to understand what race is and is not. Read more about the exhibit and the community initiative that has been working to develop programs and conversations about this important topic.
Race: Why Are We So Different?
PBS is again airing The National Parks, a magnificent series by Ken Burns about how this country’s national parks came to be. Episode 5: Great Nature (1933-1945), includes a story about Chiura Obata, an artist who was inspired by Yosemite. He was one of some 120,000 Japanese Americans sent to internment camps. While at Topaz, Obata started an art school for others incarcerated at the camp. Go here to learn more about his story and view some of his artwork. Episode 5 can be viewed online for the next few days, or you can check out the entire series from KPL’s collection.
Racial prejudice toward Japanese Americans is a prominent theme in Snow Falling on Cedars. Join us for A Conversation About Race on March 2, in a discussion led by staff from the Kalamazoo YWCA’s program on racial justice.
The National Parks
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
This year, thousands of readers in Kalamazoo County will immerse themselves in David Guterson’s unforgettable novel Snow Falling on Cedars.
We are pleased to present what we think is an especially rich array of programs planned for February, March and April. Browse the calendar of events to find discussions and presentations that you’d like to attend.
Highlights of three programs:
This season would not be possible without the enthusiastic work of our local and national partners, and the thousands of readers who’ve participated each year since 2003. To all of you we offer our grateful thanks.
Snow Falling on Cedars
Novelist, short story writer, poet, journalist, and essayist David Guterson earned his M.A. from the University of Washington, where he studied under the writer Charles Johnson. After moving to Bainbridge Island in Puget Sound, Guterson taught English at the local high school and began writing for Sports Illustrated and Harper’s magazine. His work also includes the novels East of the Mountains, Our Lady of the Forest, and The Other.
A phenomenal West Coast bestseller, winner of a 1995 Pacific Northwest Booksellers Award, the 1995 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction, and the 1996 American Booksellers Association Book of the Year Award, the enthralling novel Snow Falling on Cedars is at once a murder mystery, a courtroom drama, the story of a doomed love affair, and a stirring meditation on place, prejudice, and justice.
David Guterson’s New York Times best-seller Snow Falling on Cedars will be the 2010 Reading Together selection. Book discussions and a wide variety of special events will take place during February, March and April. The author will visit Kalamazoo on March 17.