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So Far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko…

So Far from the Bamboo Grove (edition 1994)

by Yoko Kawashima Watkins

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55512217,987 (3.77)4
Title:So Far from the Bamboo Grove
Authors:Yoko Kawashima Watkins
Info:HarperCollins (1994), Edition: 1st Beech Tree ed, Paperback, 192 pages
Collections:3rd-4th Grade Readers, International Books, Contemporary Realistic Fiction, Chapter Books

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So far from the Bamboo Grove by Yoko Kawashima Watkins



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"So Far from the Bamboo Grove" tells two parallel stories of the Kawashima family, consisting of Yoko, the narrator, Ko, her sister, Hideyo, her brother, and her Mother. The Kawashimas are a Japanese military family stationed in Nanam, close to the northernmost border of the then unified Korea, at the end of World War II. Germany has surrendered, the Japanese are about to be nuked by America, and their power in Korea is being usurped by a Communist rebellion.

The story beings on the precipice of disaster for the Kawashima family. Life is still relatively normal, though they must constantly plan for an imminent escape from their home. Yoko, and her family, make friends with an injured military officer through a child's dance routine. But then the inevitable happens and the Japanese are done in Korea. The Kawashima family must escape in the dead of night to avoid possible torture, rape, and execution at the hands of the Korean usurpers and Russian backers. However, the escape party only includes Yoko, Ko, and their mother. Hideyo is miles away, working in a munitions facility, if I recall. And their father, a high ranking military officer, never makes an appearance and is presumed dead.

The trio leave instructions for Hideyo to meet them in Seoul, hundreds of miles south. By grace of the military officer they befriended, Colonel Matsumura, they are able to board a hospital train bound for Seoul. During the trip they deal with death - bodies of adults and children alike are thrown from the train for disposal, as there is no time for a proper burial - sickness, newborns, and Communists. The trip is abruptly stopped when air raids destroy the plain and the Kawashimas are forced to walk.

During their arduous trip to Seoul, and then further to Pusan, awaiting a ferry back to mainland Japan, the Kawashima family is struck with hardship that is almost incomprehensible to me. They must find a hidden safe place to sleep during the day, as they travel at night, hope desperately to find a source of water in which to bathe, wash clothers, and replenish supplies, and ration food. Then there is the scene in which the three happen upon Korean soldiers raping an innocent woman, and it would seem as though they were next to meet such a fate. But, an air raid, seemingly decreed by providence, kills the soldiers, dazes both Ko and her mother, but Yoko is injured by shrapnel.

Upon reaching Seoul, the family makes camp in the train station for days, awaiting Hideyo's arrival. They eat what they can, including garbage, and last as long as they can. Eventually, they are hurried off to Pusan, to escape to the safety of Japan. They then board a boat and arrive at a port in Fukuoka, Japan, and subsequently travel to Kyoto, once again setting camp at the train station. At each stop the family leave notes for Hideyo signalling their next destination.

The mother enters the girls in school Yoko in middle school and Ko in high education, and attempts to find her own parents. Finding the area decimated by war, and he parents dead the Mother returns to the Kyoto train station to her daughters and promptly dies, from what I can only gather is stress and illness from their journey. Yoko and Ko are luckily enough to find a family that allows them to live in a room above a warehouse. They make money by selling trinkets Ko creates, and living a meager life, still rooting through garbage bins on occasion. However, they are surprised to find that a quilt their mother carries a hidden pocket containing a substantial sum of money - to the destitute that is - that they vow to save.

Yoko continues with school and is treated poorly due to her poverty and refugee status. She makes friends with the stuttering janitor, who she helps learn to speak more fluidly, and he provides her with supplies he finds lying around. Eventually she learns of an essay competition with a large cash prize. Yoko writes about her treatment in school and actually wins the contest. This not only brings money, but hatred from fellow students and administrators, as it was essentially smack talk. But, this allows the aforementioned Colonel Matsumura to find the girls and reconecct, offering them some help.

Hideyo, one the other hand, barely escapes the factory - with 3 friends - as it is burning to the ground. He goes home and discovers the note left by his family. He and his friends begin their trek across more than entire present day country, and while they don't have to fear the same type of sexual violence seen by his family, he is still in mortal peril for almost the entire trip.

The group splits in Seoul, as Hideyo goes his own way. Alone, he coincidentally ventures towards Pusan, having missed the fact that his family carved a message in the station posts. Eventually, physically exhausted, Hideyo collapses on the outskirts of a farm house. The family takes him in and cares for him, and help him to resupply for the remainder of his journey. He makes it to Pusan, sees the signs left for him by his family. After sailing to Japan he finds more signs, that his sisters both ventured to place every weekend, that leads to a happy reunion between the three.

I very much enjoyed this book, and it stood out to me for a very particular reason. Often, we read stories about people escaping persecution, like this one. But this is a new twist. These people suffering atrocities, and fighting for their lives in a hostile land...while they are oppressed, were previously the oppressors. It's like reading a story about a family of Tories trying to get back to Britain at the end of the American Revolution. It begs the question, "When do the oppressors become the oppressed?" And also, "Can such a switch happen in the same generation?" as I'm sure many of those Koreans felt entirely justified in their actions.

These are probably the big questions I would concentrate upon if I were to design a lesson around this book. It's a bit of a long read for the target audience, though the language is a bit simplified. I would want my students to concentrate on what it means to be oppressed and where the line is drawn when it comes to justifiable retribution. Should it be peaceful, is violence ever necessary, if so, what is the line where violence is justifiable? Questions like these. I would also love to include articles detailing the two sides, like works about both Gandhi and the Bolsheviks. ( )
  JFinnegan | Apr 2, 2016 |
This book was a narrative told through the point of view of a Japanese eleven-year-old girl. The story is about her trying to avoid the trauma of WWII with her mom and sister as they journey on a long, tiresome, tedious trip trying to escape Northern Korea. I had mixed feelings about this book. First, I know the author made a note of it before the story, that many people didn’t agree with what she had written, but I believe that this book does have some fault because it is from one point of view and the author was definitely biased. The book definitely gives insight into what it was like during WWII and the tension that was present between Japanese and Korean as well as how hard war time can be for everyone. I liked this book because the language made it an easy read and easy to follow. Some chapters seemed to go on or have extra information that could have been cut out, but it was her story and I was still able to read this book in one sitting. The book was definitely a little too graphic to be used for a children’s book with reference to rape, blood, and death but I guess teachers and parents can use judgement and decide what they want to expose their kids to. The book reinforces ideas of family, change, struggles, determination and bravery. Through imagery and compelling writing, I felt as if I was walking by their sides and experiencing everything that was mentioned in the book.
  kamann1 | Mar 7, 2016 |
This story is about a Japanese girl named Yoko, her mom, and sister living in Korea. This takes place during the war in Japan. The story follows their journey back to Japan. While i enjoyed parts of this story, i do not feel that it was approve for kids. I would not have my students read this book in my future classroom. The writing was great, and the story was powerful. But it was graphic. The imagery of this book made it easy for you to picture the tragic events of the story. I think that it would be more appropriate for high schoolers. This book could be useful for a study on comparing the Koreans to the Japanese since it is told from one point of view. ( )
  lsavar3 | Mar 7, 2016 |
This is a book about a young Japanese girl named Yoko, her mother, and older sister living in Korea to hide from the war happening in Japan. Her father is on a government mission in Japan. The story follows her difficult journey back to Japan. While the book is not awful and has really good aspects to it, it was not my favorite book. I do not think the book is suitable for children in the elementary level as far as content goes. Maybe the reading level is appropriate for upper elementary levels but, the content is too gruesome and heavy for children who are not emotionally ready for this type of book. The book goes into detail how people killed one another and I just believe it is a bit much. Also, as I was reading the book I just did not feel engaged. I found the book difficult to get through for no specific reasons. With that being said, I do think there are some positive points to the book. The story itself is very well written. The book goes into great detail about the sort of things she and her family endured. For example, in the beginning of the book when they were on the train and the women was next to them having the baby. I also like the fact that the book is very controversial. This gives us something to talk about. What is the sense in reading a book that everyone will like? I like that this book is not cookie cutter like. I also like the fact that it is a true story it brings cultural awareness to the reader’s life through the eye opening experiences. Although this is not my favorite book it is still worth reading in the end. ( )
  rsheha1 | Mar 3, 2016 |
I have mixed feelings about this book for several reasons. I do not find this book to be appropriate for young children, however if children are prepared to read it, it is very powerful. The imagery within this book stood out to me the most. I was able to visually see the tragic events that were happening in my head. The topics discussed were very mature. This book was also biased since it was told within the Japanese perspective of the war. Although the book was a bit depressing chapter after chapter, the ending was happy, unpredictable, and I enjoyed it. ( )
  kbutki1 | Mar 2, 2016 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0688131158, Paperback)

In the final days of World War II, Koreans were determined to take back control of their country from the Japanese and end the suffering caused by the Japanese occupation. As an eleven-year-old girl living with her Japanese family in northern Korea, Yoko is suddenly fleeing for her life with her mother and older sister, Ko, trying to escape to Japan, a country Yoko hardly knows.

Their journey is terrifying—and remarkable. It's a true story of courage and survival that highlights the plight of individual people in wartime. In the midst of suffering, acts of kindness, as exemplified by a family of Koreans who risk their own lives to help Yoko's brother, are inspiring reminders of the strength and resilience of the human spirit.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:44 -0400)

(see all 4 descriptions)

A fictionalized autobiography in which eleven-year-old Yoko escapes from Korea to Japan with her mother and sister at the end of World War II.

(summary from another edition)

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