sOn Korean portal sites, Daum, Naver, Yoko Kawashima Watkins’s book “So Far from the Bamboo Grove, 요코이야기” became one of the most search term these days. The book narrates story based on the author’s life, focuses on the harrowing experiences of an 11-year-old Japanese girl and her family at the end of Japanese-occupied colonial Korea era. It describes Korean as abusing and sexually assaulting virtuous Japanese. The book is being used in English literature class in one of U.S. middle schools and is drawing concerns from Koreans and Korean-Americans. The Marmot’s Hole already posted up collective stories about it.
I have not read the book so I do not know how the book really describes Korean and how much it is biased historical backgrounds. Without a doubt, there were evil Koreans as book describes right after total surrender by Imperial Japan and for the handover period of sovereignty. But it is for sure that the book would create a wrong perception on Korean or Korean history to those teen students without prior knowledge about social and historical background of the region. On the other hand, it is just an overreaction to launch “active government-level action” as a the consul general in Boston addressed. It’s totally up to those parents of Dover-Sherborn Regional School what they teaching their kids.
However, According to English Dong A Ilbo, the Dover-Sherborn Regional School Committee in Boston voted unanimously to overturn the decision to ban the book in question from classes. The Dover-Sherborn middle school cited that not allowing the book could be considered as censorship and they received positive response from students who had read the book. In response, the Korean parents said, “The decision was changed by opposition from English teachers and parents of other ethnic groups.” They are preparing to file a federal lawsuit to settle this matter.
It is also interesting that Korean edition was published under the title of “Yoko’s Story” in 2005 by Munhakdongne Publishing Co Ltd. Korean edition of the book was published, by Mun Hak Dong Ne, two years ago. The book has been published neither in China nor in Japan. Munhakdongne claimed when it published the book, “The book couldn’t be published in China due to strong anti-Japanese sentiment and in Japan because it contains critical remarks the author’s mother made about the Japanese government’s provocation of the war.” And there were positive book reviews made by main media, namely ChoChoongDong (Chosun Ilbo, ChoonAng Ilbo, and Dong-A Ilb). Obviously, most of upset comments by Korean netizen on portal site’s threads made directly towards these media.
Korean and Japanese are all victims of imperialism, colonialism of modern history. History could be writing on favor of country’s view point but just because they all have skeletons in their closets does not mean one can distort history.
History is undeniable and unchangeable.
And My exact sentiments to Professor Carter Eckert’s Opinion on the Boston Globe.
……But context and balance are important. While Yoko’s story is compelling as a narrative of survival, it achieves its powerful effect in part by eliding the historical context in which Yoko and her family had been living Korea. That context, simply put, was a 40-year record of harsh colonial rule in Korea, which reached its apogee during the war years of 1937-45, when Yoko was growing up. While some Koreans fared better than others, many were conscripted for forced labor and sexual slavery to serve the Japanese imperial war machine, while the colonial authorities simultaneously promoted a program of intensive, coercive cultural assimilation that sought to erase a separate Korean identity on the peninsula.….But Watkins’s book may not serve that purpose well, especially if it is taught simply as a heroic personal narrative of survival, without adequate provision of historical context. ….
<UPDATE> Author, Yoko Kawashima Watkins, defends memoir on Korea, apologizes for furor.
“…Yoko has become a symbol for the problems between Japan and Korea,” said John D’Auria, principal at Wellesley Middle School, where Watkins’s book has been taught for 13 years.Her award-winning memoir, taught in many middle schools in Greater Boston and around the United States, is about her family’s harrowing escape from Korea in 1945, when Japanese families like hers were ousted after 35 years of occupation. But Korean-Americans and at least three South Korean consulates in the United States contend that her book, told through the eyes of an 11-year-old, distorts history.
“I am extremely sorry for causing the commotion over ‘So Far from the Bamboo Grove,’ “ she said. Watkins, who describes herself as a peace activist, told the audience that she is willing to call her publisher to see whether a new foreword with more history can be written for the next edition
Agnes Ahn of Dover , one of the Korean-American parents who sought to have the book removed from sixth- grade classrooms, referred to D’Auria’s remarks as propaganda. While Yoko and her family struggled for a short time, said Ahn, Koreans suffered for 35 years under Japanese occupation.“How can you say her story is more important,” she asked. A chorus of teachers answered, “We’re not.”