Snow Falling on Cedars Plot Summary
Kabuo Miyamoto, a Japanese-American fisherman living on the small island of San Piedro off the coast of Washington in the nineteen fifties, is accused of murder. The dead man is Carl Heine, another fisherman. Carl and Kabuo grew up together. Kabuo's family was in the process of buying some of Carl's family's land when Pearl Harbor was bombed. Soon after that, Kabuo's family was sent to internment camps in California with many other Japanese families who were suspected spies. While Kabuo's family was gone, Carl's mother Etta took advantage of their absence to sell the land to someone else, even though the Miyamotos only had one payment left to make. Kabuo returned from the war furious with Etta and determined to get the land his family had wanted.
While in the camps, Kabuo married a beautiful Japanese girl named Hatsue Imada. She had had a long childhood romance with a Caucasian boy named Ishmael Chambers. Ishmael loved her with all his heart, but Hatsue had often felt some "wrongness" nagging at her, and when she forced to go to the camp she wrote him a letter telling him their relationship was over. Ishmael, like Kabuo, went to war and served his country well. When he returned, he was still very much in love with Hatsue and very lonely and angry.
Carl Heine also went to war, and came back with some dark memories and some anger at the "Japs." Nevertheless, he felt that his mother's treatment of the Miyamotos was wrong, and when Kabuo approached him to buy his land he leaned toward yes, but wanted to think about it. Soon after, Kabuo came upon Carl late at night while fishing. Carl's boat had lost its power. Kabuo gave Carl one of his batteries, and Carl made an agreement with Kabuo to sell the land. Kabuo left, and later a huge boat came close enough to Carl's boat to knock Carl into the water with its wake, hitting his head on a pole in the process. When Carl's body was found, it appeared that someone had hit him with something to knock him out and then thrown him overboard. Since Kabuo had recently had a conversation with Carl about his land and was known to desperately want the land, suspicion was raised. A major contributor to this suspicion was Kabuo's race: many San Piedro residents still hated the Japanese, even ten years after the war. The trial was long and full of racism. No one was aware of the huge freighter passing so close to Carl's boat until Ishmael stumbled upon the information while doing research for an article for his newspaper. When he finally brings his knowledge to the judge, along with some other information, the case is dismissed. Though Ishmael has not regained Hatsue, he finally feels she respects him for how he has helped her, and he can begin to respect himself again.