Leading the defense is the old, experienced Nels Gudmondsson. Ishmael's last thoughts before passing out on a navy hospital ship when his arm is amputated at the Battle of Tarawa are of anger towards Hatsue. died due to a heart attack and Etta Heine sold the land to Jurgensen.Several witnesses, including Etta Heine, Carl's mother, accuse Kabuo of murdering Carl for racial and personal reasons. When Kabuo returned after the war, he was extremely bitter towards Etta for reneging on the land sale.
Carl's body had been pulled from the sea, trapped in his own net, on September 16, 1954. The trial, held in December 1954 during a snowstorm that grips the entire island, occurs in the midst of deep anti-Japanese sentiments following World War II.
Covering the case is the editor of the town's one-man newspaper, the San Piedro Review, Ishmael Chambers, a World War II US Marine Corps veteran who lost an arm fighting the Japanese at the Battle of Tarawa.
Torn by a sense of hatred for the Japanese, Chambers struggles with his love for Kabuo's wife, Hatsue, and his conscience, wondering if Kabuo is truly innocent. The payments were to be made over a ten-year period.
Through extended flashbacks, the reader learns that Ishmael had fallen in love with Hatsue when the two attended high school together right before the war. However, before the last payment was made, war erupted between the US and Japan following Pearl Harbor, and all islanders of Japanese ancestry were forced to relocate to internment camps.
They had been secretly dating at this time and lost their virginity to each other. Hatsue and her family, the Imadas, are interned in Manzanar camp in California.Spearheading the prosecution are the town's sheriff, Art Moran, and prosecutor, Alvin Hooks. Under some pressure from her mother, Hatsue breaks up with Ishmael through a Dear John letter and marries Kabuo while at Manzanar.