I revisited this book recently for a student, just to refresh myself. I had forgotten about its austerity and I was pleasantly surprised to find myself enjoying it, despite the fact that I knew what was unfolding. I think that at the time of my first reading I must have been less intune to the subtle racial under-currents which litter this book – although I’m not sure how this was possible. I don’t recall being so struck by the situation of the Japanese in America during the Second World War. Perhaps I was more taken by Guterson’s beautiful prose. In any event, I was enthralled by the way that Guterson managed to so clearly convey the complexity of this dynamic and the depth of emotion which built up, over time, in both the Japanese and the white American communities.
I was thrilled to be able to relate my reading with the photographs taken by Dorothea Lange depicting some of the traumatic events which became a part of life for Japanese people during this time.
One of the striking elements of this book is how Guterson manages to utilise a crime scene and trial to actually deal with these issues which are so central to American identity and history. Guterson’s characters are vividly dispersed and unfolded throughout their encounters with the victim and the protagonist, Kabuo. It is through their testimony at Kabuo’s trial that we come to know them each intimately. Whereas most crime fiction novels place the plot at the centre of their structure, for Guterson, it sits contentedly in the background, allowing him to flesh out the more subtle issues which are clearly so central to his understanding of America’s small town history.
I am intrigued to read more of Guterson’s work. Any suggestions?