This novel is set on San Pedro Island off the coast of Washington in 1954. Kabuo Miyamoto, a member of the island's Japanese-American community, is on trial for the murder of Carl Heine, a fellow fisherman. Heine's boat was found drifting one morning, with his body entangled in a net. While the death initially appeared accidental, bits of circumstantial evidence accumulate that seem to implicate Miyamoto.

Miyamoto's family was unjustly cheated out of some land by Heine's mother during the time the island's Japanese community was incarcerated in a "relocation camp" in California during the War. The dead man's traumatic head wound appeared suggestive of a Japanese "kendo" blow. Carl Heine's blood type was found on a wooden gaff on Kabuo Miyamoto's boat.

As the trial proceeds, the story of Carl, Kabuo, and what happened that night gradually evolves, as does the tale of Ishmael Chambers, the local newspaper reporter, who had a "charmed love affair" with Kabuo's wife when they were both adolescents, just before the Japanese families were sent away in 1942. It is clear, however, that this is more than a story of one man's guilt or innocence; it is a story of a community's fear and prejudice against the Japanese-Americans in its midst.


On one level, this suspenseful and beautifully-written novel can be read as a well-constructed mystery story. On another level, it presents a poetic evocation of character and prejudice in a small island community in the 1950's. In her testimony, Etta Heine, the dead man's mother, clearly expresses her hatred and distrust of all "Japs," including Kabuo, who had been her son's childhood friend.

The author also recreates the wartime hysteria that led to Japanese-Americans being sent to concentration camps. In fact, in pre-war Washington state, Japanese people who were not American citizens were not even permitted to own property.

Ironically, the most vocal bigot in this story (Etta Heine) is not only of German descent, but was actually born in Germany. Yet, there appears to be no prejudice against Germans on San Pedro Island as a result of the War; certainly, people of German ancestry were never sent to the American concentration camps. Why do people who have lived together in a community for years suddenly turn against one another?


First published: 1994 (Harcourt Brace). This novel won the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pacific Northwest Booksellers Association Award.


Random House: Vintage

Place Published

New York


1995 (paperback)

Page Count