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East of the Mountains
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on 16 January 2014
I loved this book and would have awarded the maximum 5 stars had I not read Snow Falling on Cedars first! Guterson's first
novel was so good it's proved a hard act to follow. However East of the Mountains takes the reader on a dark but enlightening
journey which I found hard to put down. I thoroughly recommend it to all Guterson fans.
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on 15 May 2014
I bought this book because of Snow Falling on Cedars, and I was not disappointed. Whilst the story is totally different, the quality of writing is equally good, and it tells a story that you will remember for a long time.
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on 25 April 2010
Very good book - Easy to read but well written. I think a second reading will reveal even more of the authors feelings. Bit like Grapes of Wrath meets Call of the Wild.
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on 20 July 2015
This book was a gift so no comment
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on 8 April 2015
Very good avery interesting story could not wait to get to the end to see what happen
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 10 June 2018
David Guterson's novel "East of the Mountains" is set in the Columbia Basin of central Washington in the late 1990s. It tells the story of Dr. Ben Givens, a renowned heart surgeon who has recently lost his wife, retired, and learned he is suffering from terminal colon cancer. With the goal of saving himself and his family from unnecessary pain and suffering, he sets out with his two dogs on a hunting trip with the intention of committing suicide.

The book has strong components of a picaresque novel, with Dr. Givens's adventures in his brief journey, and of an American coming-of-age novel with its protagonist an elderly, successful man rather than a youth struggling to reach maturity. In some ways, this book reminded me of Kerouac's "On the Road" with an older and wiser hero. "Huckleberry Finn" for the ageing also lurks somewhere in the background

In his journey, Dr. Givens has a variety of experiences and meets many different sorts of people emanating from an automobile accident he suffers at the outset. He meets a young couple going skiing, a drifter who provides him with marijuana, a graduate student to whom he is briefly attracted who is studying Rudolph Steiner (the founder of an esoteric movement somewhat similar to Theosophy), illegal immigrants picking apples, a young woman veterinarian, and many others. He also recollects during his journey his past life, particularly his loving wife, his wartime experiences and his decision to become a physician.

Each of the people he meets along the way has something to teach him towards recovering (or gaining) a degree of self-understanding and acceptance of his condition. I found it striking and good that most of the people are rather ordinary in intelligence and achievement, with something valuable to teach a famous and skilled heart surgeon.

The book explores the theme of life as a journey and a quest for self-knowledge for someone with the experience of age. It speaks of the value of this our world, the only world we know. I was reminded of the American poet Wallace Stevens's observation that "The greatest poverty is not to live in a physical world". The book celebrates the beauty of the West, the emotional and erotic beauty of women, the beauty of using one's skills to help others, and the beauty of trying to understand oneself. The descriptions are good, and the story is well-told, even though it lacks a certain sparkle. A worthwhile and thoughtful book.

Robin Friedman
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on 4 December 2016
David Guterson was born in Seattle, Washington state. Apart from a brief, unhappy sojourn to teach in Rhode Island, he has lived all his life in the Pacific North West. This is the landscape explored in Snow Falling on Cedars (1994) and this novel, East of the Mountains (1990).

Dr. Ben Givens is a cardiothoracic surgeon aged 73. He has terminal cancer but has not told his family. He is in mourning for his wife of 50 years and is haunted by the horrors of war when he killed a man but saw the work of a battlefield surgeon that inspired him to become a surgeon. Ben knows nothing can be done about his illness, that his death is inevitable. So, with the clarity of impotence, he decides to end his life to save himself, his daughter and his grandson from a grim, lingering death through cancer.

As a child Ben went hunting with his father. During his marriage he stopped hunting but resumed following his wife’s death. He uses his father’s Winchester shotgun. He plans a last hunting trip with his 2 dogs eastward into the mountains of his childhood, where he hunted with his father and to return to the apple orchards where he grew up. Ben intends to stage a hunting accident, witnessed only by his dogs, to save his family the sadness of suicide.

The journey into the mountains involves a series of events and encounters that challenge his decision to end his life. He is injured and helped by a young couple in a VW campervan. He loses one his dogs in a violent incident. He uses his surgical skills on an immigrant. He is attacked and hunted by a deranged rancher.

This is the story of his coming to terms with life, death, his relationships with his parents, wife, daughter and grandson and the weight of choices that need to be made in life. The story is told through a series of flashbacks, reflections by Ben that essentially underpin and drive the narrative forward.

Guterson evokes the rugged landscape of the Pacific Northwest in a lyrical commitment to show the relationship between man and his environment. He builds a compelling story around and in the unforgiving but starkly beautiful mountains as Ben travels further into danger but further toward the reassuring texture of his childhood. This is a journey of personal discovery, as the author makes clear from the start. In Snow Falling on Cedars it was a love story and courtroom drama. Here it is a journey but both novels are placed in the dramatic hinterland of the author’s childhood and life.

Comparisons with Cedars are inevitable. Both books take place in the fertile, mountainous landscape of Washington State and the relationship between man and the earth. Guterson uses the metaphors of nature, in Cedars it was the fruit economy of the island and here it is the apple orchards of Ben’s childhood. In both books the consequences of love, family and war dictate the narrative.

This is a powerful but restrained story of a man coming to terms with his own death. It is written by an author deeply committed to, and in love with, his landscape. The reader never tires of that relationship. 5 stars.
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on 12 June 2017
Pretty predictable but I don't think the first reviewer needed to have spoiled the plot completely, yet I understand the frustration behind it. I reckoned our man carried out some rather arduous tasks for one supposedly on his last legs, although just how long 'not long' might be, I could only surmise. The descriptive prose was the life-saver for me - pun intended. DG could write about the concept boring and make it seem intetesting, although squeamish me did baulk rather at the birthing scene: his research must be phemoninal.

I'm glad I read this book but won't be keeping it on the shelf. I'll pass it on and let someone else decide if this is an overall masterpiece or not. I'm in the latter category, I'm afraid. And that's a shame.
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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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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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