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Free Study Guide-Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson-Book Notes
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The Japanese islanders boarded a ship. They spent 3 nights in horse stables at a fairground. Then, they boarded a train to California. The food made many of them sick, causing a constant line at the toilet. Fujiko tried hard not to let her daughters see her discomfort. On the train, the 3-week-old Takami's baby screamed constantly. Fujiko secretly wished for the baby’s death so she could sleep, and at the same time, she hated herself for even thinking it. The train stopped in the middle of the Mojave Desert. They were herded onto buses and brought to the Manzanar internment camp. They were given typhoid shots and a 16 by 20 room for all 6 of them. Dust covered everything, all the time. They lived out of their suitcases because there was nowhere to put their clothing.

All those interned wandered about like ghosts. Fujiko collapsed in on herself and waited for a letter from her husband. Instead, a love letter from Ishmael came for Hatsue. One of Hatsue’s sisters opened and read Ishmael’s letter and then gave it to Fujiko.

Fujiko realized from the letter that Hatsue had been involved with Ishmael for a long time and that they had been sexually intimate. She wondered if Hatsue even knew what love was. She also understood why Hatsue seemed more unhappy then her other daughters, as if she was grieving. She fully understood the depth of Hatsue’s deceit, and she felt a mother’s rage at this betrayal. However, she reminded herself to behave with dignity and do what her grandmother had taught her - do what she must quietly and with a stoic demeanor.

Fujiko hands Hatsue Ishmael’s letter. She was too anger to discuss it with her. Hatsue begins to cry and apologizes for deceiving her. Fujiko says Hatsue has deceived herself as well. Fujiko writes a letter to the Chambers detailing Hatsue and Ishmael’s relationship. Hatsue will not be replying, she writes, and their relationship is now over. Fujiko writes that she understands that they are children and that it is not a crime that they were attracted to each other, their crime lies in their concealment.

Fujiko shows Hatsue the letter. Hatsue tells her she does not have to send it. Hatsue has thought about Ishmael since they left. She knew from the beginning something was wrong, and the though she had a feeling of love for him, she knew at the same time she couldn’t love him. She had decided to put an end to it. Fujiko tears the letter and tells Hatsue to write her own. Fujiko mails Hatsue’s letter.

Boys from the island had built furniture for the Imadas. Kabuo delivered furniture 3 nights in a row and on each night he stayed for tea. On the fourth night, he asked if Hatsue would go for a walk with him; she said no and did not speak to him for 3 weeks. A few months later, when her ache for Ishmael had somewhat subsided, she ate lunch with Kabuo. He asked her about her dreams. She told him she wanted an island strawberry farm. He told her he wanted the same thing.


The Japanese are forced to leave the life they’ve built to travel an unpleasant journey to live in the crowded and dirty conditions of the internment camp. Through Fujiko’s description of their journey and the camp, Guterson reveals a common humanness that all people can relate to. He shows that culture and lifestyle are built on underlying human qualities that we all have. Fujiko shows impatience, unhappiness, and discomfort despite her cultural upbringing.

When she finds out about Hatsue’s relationship with Ishmael, Fujiko is enraged. But Hatsue has already decided that she must put an end to her relationship with Ishmael, and she writes her goodbye. Hatsue has realized that she has not only deceived her family, but herself as well. She recognizes that her Japanese identity is stronger than her love for Ishmael. The cultural differences and political climate way too heavily on their relationship and break it apart.

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Free Study Guide-Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson-Book Summary


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