Snow Falling on Cedars | Study Guide

David Guterson

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Snow Falling on Cedars | Chapter 3 | Summary



Nels Gudmundsson, Kabuo Miyamoto's defense attorney, cross-examines Art Moran. He identifies some key facts:

  • The boat's lights were still on the next morning, but the boat's engine started up fine, indicating that the batteries had a lot of power.
  • The night of Carl Heine's death was extremely foggy.
  • Carl's boat had a D-6 battery inserted, which was not the type of battery he usually used. Kabuo's boat did use D-6 batteries.
  • Carl's boat had three batteries, one of which was dead. Kabuo's boat had no extra battery on board.

Nels asks Art if Carl's head injury could have happened when the police pulled his body back aboard the boat. Art says it's possible, but not likely.


The cultural or ethnic heritage of the characters plays a major role in this book. Keep in mind that Kabuo Miyamoto's lawyer, Nels Gudmundsson, is Scandinavian. Scandinavians (from Norway, Sweden, Iceland, Finland, or Denmark) played a major role in founding Seattle and other communities around Puget Sound. Approximately one quarter of Seattle's immigrant population came from Scandinavian countries. There is social distance between the Scandinavian and Japanese American residents of the island, but not all of the Scandinavians show prejudice or discriminate. Nels is Kabuo's lawyer, and he is doing his professional best for Kabuo.

Nels is elderly and, in some ways, feeble: he has lost sight in one eye and moves slowly. Kabuo gets more sympathy from people who are also "the other"—Nels with his one blind eye and Ishmael Chambers with his missing arm. The narrator notes that while Nels has lost sight in one eye, his other eye is "preternaturally observant." Maybe Nels sees Kabuo's innocence when others cannot?

On one level, Snow Falling on Cedars is a mystery novel. The murder mystery genre really only began in earnest in the late 1800s with the popularity of the Sherlock Holmes's mysteries, although authors such as Edgar Allan Poe and Charles Dickens, among others, had earlier tried their hand at it. By the 1930s some mystery writers had formulated "rules" for mystery writing, which are still loosely followed to this day. One rule requires the author to "play fair" with the readers and share all clues so they can participate in the solution. David Guterson follows this rule, laying out evidence about Carl Heine's death so the reader can determine if Kabuo Miyamoto is guilty.
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