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Customer reviews

4.1 out of 5 stars
4.1 out of 5 stars
East of the Mountains
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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 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 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 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 20 December 2001
Unlike some of the reviewers I really did not like this book. Overwritten, predictable, sentimental, and peopled by cardboard characters, it reads like a rushed job after the (deserved) success of Snow Falling on Cedars. It was difficult to care about the fate of Givens and at times I wished he'd died in chapter one so I could spend my time on something more worthwhile. We don't have a no star option but if we had this would get it.
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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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