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4.1 out of 5 stars25
4.1 out of 5 stars
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on 1 September 2000
'Snow Falling on Cedars' had a wonderful sense of place, a tight and intriguing plot, and moments of gentle romantic eroticism. It also presented a fascinating insight into a unique community and its problems. 'East of the Mountains' is a much less ambitious novel. The evocative description is still there, so is the romance, and Guterson still writes genuine detail without it ever becoming pedantic. But there is plenty missing.
This is a story of a journey and the plot is inevitably looser, but what makes this novel ultimately unsatisfying is its predictability. For example, we are reminded of the fact that Ben Givens is a heart surgeon at the outset, and repeatedly throughout the book, so when we get to the point where his comrade is shot in battle and he watches the doctor's fight to save him, we know exactly what the outcome will be and why.
The characters too are rather one-dimensional, Givens himself, his wife, the young couple, the girl he meets on the bus and the woman who takes him under her wing, are all consistently good and flawless people. Only the owner of the wolfhound pack is a 'bad guy' and he is bad consistently, even to his own family.
I found certain similarities to Proulx's 'The Shipping News' - the work contains beautiful prose, but overall there are very few surprises and little that could be considered genuine plot. At least Proulx created entertaining and original characters.
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on 5 July 2000
Anyone who is expecting a book similar in quality to Guterson's "Snow falling on Cedars" will be disappointed by this one. Barely more than a novella, this book follows Ben Givens, retired heart surgeon,hunter and terminally ill cancer patient, on his journey back to his East Washington roots to commit suicide.
The book is hugely readable, Guterson's writing flows elegantly (in fact it is hard to put down) and his descriptions of the Washington countryside are hugely evocative. And yet nothing happens! An old man sets out to commit suicide ... and fails; in the process of which he meets some nice and some not so nice people, a few nasty things happen to him and he delivers a baby. Then he goes home.
Perhaps I was expecting too much of this book: his first book dealt with so many different themes after all, and was as impressive as the landscape it was set it in. This one promised a lot, was easy to read but left me thinking "and so..?".
The book has to have three stars if only for its wonderful descriptions: it does not pick up any extra stars for content! I remain a Guterson fan, but hope that the wait for his next book will be more rewarding.
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on 7 August 2000
The plot starts off looking deceptively simple. When confronted with his mortality, Ben Givens decides to take his life in a last ditch effort to take control of his existence. The sequence of events that follow, however, force Ben to re-evaluate his future in the light of past experience which, only at this point in his life, become significant. The experiences Ben goes through in his efforts to get to the point of committing suicide are almost surreal. The sharpness of Guterson's description of his imagery make one wonder whether reality does appear this way when one is fully aware that he is dying. The beauty of this novel lies in the use of external images to enable the reader to come to an understanding of the internal terrain of Ben Givens' heart. An altogether rewarding read with pictures that continue to stay in the mind long after one has put the book down.
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on 29 March 2001
It is harvest time in the Columbia Basin of central Washington State where orchards droop with ripened fruit & Ben Givens, recently retired, widowered & diagnosed with cancer, heads east, over the Cascade Mountains into the still wild sage deserts for one last bird hunt with his Brittanies & his memories. A rain-slicked highway & a headlong skid into a tree changes his plans.
I thoroughly enjoyed David Guterson's writing which flows like windswept wild grasses, because I've roamed those same sagelands & I've known the same sort of world of hurt into which Ben Givens is headed.
David Guterson narrowly avoids sentimentality by allowing Ben's adventures to draw some blood, be scary enough to rouse a hero's lethargy & full enough with unexpressed loneliness, orneryness, dashes of dumb luck & mean spiritedness that kept me walking at Ben's side.
I wanted to hear more of those adventures. Having taken care of our Poppa during his last years of life, I had a very good idea just how valuable Ben's life & death will be to his daughter.
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on 5 August 1999
Completely different from the brilliant, but sometimes stagnant Snow Falling on Cedars. I found this book a pleasure to read. It is also a very quick read, perhaps not challenging enough but nevertheless, thoroughly enjoyable. Ben Givens, surgeon, is dying of cancer - and his focus is on the quality rather than quantity of life when faced with a terminal illness. The book concentrates on the past and present, unfortunately Gutterson's reminising of Ben's past is less strong than the detail and observations he paid to the 'present' - creating a gulf in the standard of the writing. I felt a little disappointed when the book finished - but it is, after all, a inevitable conclusion. Ever since I been addicted to roasted pumpkin seeds - the description makes your mouth water!
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on 1 August 2000
I, like many, came to this book through Snow Falling on Cedars, but found East of the Mountains a far more satisfying and compelling read. I find myself, several days on from completing the novel, re-calling, with a slow smile, the sweetness of the love Jack had known in his life, the smell of the apples and his dogged, but by no means cheesily heroic, attempts to complete his final hunting trip. On reflection, I did feel the birth scene in the pickers hut was clumsily handled and a little obvious and i never really felt the emotional connection between Ben and his grandson was as strong as it would have to have been to precipitate Ben's eventual change of plan. However, these critisms do not detract from the simplicity and beauty of this novel. Call me a nostalgic old fool, but it certainly made me cry.
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on 19 June 2012
Hard to know how Guterson could match, let alone better, the novel for which he will always be known and admired - Snow Falling on Cedars. This sensibly does not try. This is no multi-layered thriller turning over the pages so fast that the prose and the setting almost flash by before you can absorb their richness. The journey of 70-something Ben Givens, retired cardiologist and widower and now terminal cancer patient, back to his rural roots where he intends to depart unobtrusively from life, is set out with crystal clear precision from the outset. There will be no breakthrough twist to a mind-stretching plot in a tense final quarter. Ben's preparations may be too meticulous to succeed - indeed they are initially too meticulous to convince as this neat, intelligent man plans a journey whose end can only intensify the pain which he is so anxious to spare his beloved daughter and grandson. We know that the plans must go awry but we (rightly) do not anticipate another roller-coaster sweep in the style of Snow Falling on Cedars.
Which leads in its gentler, less bravura way to a deeper and more moving outcome whose lessons sink in slowly and long after an altogether simpler and less dramatic closure. Things - utterly unintended - do indeed happen to Ben and his dogs on this last journey. But nothing really happens. Except that Ben's life story spills naturally and seamlessly into our consciousness and the landscape that has shaped it comes vividly to life with Guterson's trademark command of detail. The craft may appear over-wrought at times - the pin point precision of a Second World War field surgeon's last invasive resort to revive a soldier's dead heart comes to mind - but it never feels superfluous to the human tale or an irrelevant feat of pyrotechnics. The intensity of his love affair with the north-west American forests, rivers and mountains can also overwhelm. But they are the rock of Ben's life and values so that the endless descriptions play their part in revealing the man.
It took me at least fifty pages to connect with the self-absorption of this man (and who would not be self-absorbed in the aftershock of losing his lifetime's love and now close to losing his own life?) and it never compelled me onwards in the manner of its more illustrious predecessor. But it will stay longer and deeper with me - perhaps reflecting that I am almost fifteen years older than when I read Snow Falling on Cedars.
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on 11 October 2007
Now I've heard that David Gutterson is quite an accomplished writer having also read raving reviews on `Snow falling on cedars', so thought this was worth a read.

Geographically, the book's setting depicts a large vast open space of fields, mountains etc. This is placed in direct contrast to the main protagonist, Ben Givens, and his inner emotional struggles in dealing with his raging colon cancer. He chooses to suffer in silence and takes a much closed standing, not even revealing the details to his closest family members. To him, his only option is suicide. We join him on his journey to his desired conclusion of life.

I have to take the same stance that the storyline is weak. The concept is improved by the injection of reminiscent stories of his past and the introduction of a few interesting characters he meets on his journey.

Again, Guterson should be applauded for his use of vivid imagery but also for his sensitivity in covering the subject of a terminal illness. Guterson's clearly done his homework in abundance with particular reference to geography, farming/orchard tending, war, medicine etc. He's definitely a stickler for detail and this makes the book seem a bit closer to reality.

From a personal note, this book deals with how an individual copes with suffering. It makes you think about your own circumstances and what you personally would do if you were in the same situation. The message very well may be not to `bottle' things up inside and to turn to your family and friends for support. We also see the main protagonist deliver a baby late in the book - clearly a medical gift that he has nurtured over the years. Again, this teaches us to appreciate the things we do have - possessions, family, friends but also your gifts and talents in life.

This is a very personal book and compelling, emotional read. It's a very plain look at an old man's reaction to a terminal illness. The setting/descriptive prose is high quality however the storyline and characters aren't so strong and will be receptive to mixed reviews.
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on 1 July 2014
I was disappointed with this novel from David Guterson. The story concerns Ben, a 73 year old doctor with terminal colon cancer, who decides on a hunting trip as backdrop for his suicide. As he makes his way back to his childhood home in Washington state, he meets with a number of misadventures leading him to a more life affirming perspective.

The plot is clear from the beginning and the conclusion is never in doubt. Given the thorough decency of the minor characters, the solid character of his wife, the hippy young couple with roasted pumpkin seeds and the trucker who gives him a ride, the young college student on the greyhound bus, makes his intended suicide extremely unlikely. It meant that I found myself quite bored and wishing myself towards the end of the book.

The beautiful description of the landscapes, which Guterson used to great effect in "Snow Falls on Cedars" and "Our Lady of the Forest", is wasted on this thin plot and the thin character of Ben. I would recommend these other novels by Guterson, "Snow Falls..." being quite wonderful.
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This book is not about rock climbing but about one's relationship to oneself, about serious illness and the effect the knowledge of such has on one's mind and perception of the world. It is a book about love and care, about loneliness and despair, and about hope and desire. It follows Guterson's previous books and shows, with them, his great insight into the human mind and how one deals with important and painful questions and he does this against the background of the Pacific Northwest, one of the most beautiful parts of North America.
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