Snow Falling on Cedars

On first reading, I thought this to be one of the finest novels on commercial fishing in the Pacific Northwest. It had a strong story line and well developed set of characters that carried it on a level quite apart from the setting in the gillnet fishery of Washington State’s San Juan Islands. It recognized the racially motivated internment of U.S. citizens of Japanese descent during World War II that paralleled the same behaviour in Canada. Well known British Columbia writer and publisher Howard White acknowledged, "He (Guterson) has taken all the west coast cliches, lined them up and written a novel around them."

A year after my first reading of the book I was contacted by the people making a movie of the novel. They wanted assistance in locating appropriate boats and gear for the filming. I took a small contract with them and sat down to re-read the book. Suddenly it was full of problems. There were minor things like the "alternator" on the boat in the early 1950s when there would have been a generator. But, when I visualized the narrative a major problem became apparent. The type of boat that would have been gillnetting salmon in 1941 would have been far too small for the events that took place on board. This meant that for the film a pair of boats in the 34 to 36-foot size would have to replace what should have been 28-foot boats. The movie design people knew nothing about boats, but, after viewing a number of photos, they happily insisted that any boats purchased should have the distinctive rounded west coast style wheel house. We found two beautiful 1950s era wooden boats with the correct wheelhouse design and, due to the recent Canadian government buy back program, purchased them very inexpensively. They appear in the movie and represent the west coast craft very well.

In spite of the, really quite trivial, problems I still consider this to be among the best novels set in the west coast commercial fishing world.

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