So Far from the Bamboo Grove
  • So Far from the Bamboo Grove
  • So Far from the Bamboo Grove

So Far from the Bamboo Grove

2.9 106
by Yoko Kawashima Watkins

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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

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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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
This riveting novel, based on the author's own experiences, describes a Japanese family forced to flee their home in Korea at the end of WW II. Ages 10-up. (May)
Children's Literature - Judith Gravitz
This is a true adventure story about Yoko, a resilient eleven-year-old Japanese heroine, who lives with her family in northern Korea. The events unfold during the height of the Second World War; the Korean people are beginning to retaliate against the Japanese who have ruled over them for years. Yoko is forced to flee her home with her mother and sister, leaving her brother who is working for the Japanese army and her father who works in Manchuria. This is the story of their exodus, mostly on foot, and their success at avoiding the Korean army and their ultimate arrival in Japan. Middle-grade readers will empathize with her fears, aching feet, hunger pains and rivalry with her older sister in this gripping tale of a young girl's courage. 1994 (orig.
Children's Literature - Jan Lieberman
This is Watkins' autobiographical account of her escape from Korea to Japan at the end of W.W.II. It is a gripping and gutsy tale. 1994 (orig.
School Library Journal
Gr 6 Up A true account that is filled with violence and death, yet one that is ultimately a story of family love and life. Eleven-year-old Yoko Kawashima had led a peaceful and secure life as the daughter of a Japanese government official stationed in North Korea near the end of World War II. Abruptly, all is changed as she, her older sister Ko, and their mother flee the vengeance-seeking North Korean Communists and eventually make their way to an unwelcoming and war-ravaged Japan. Yoko's story is spellbinding. She often escapes death by mere chance; her brother, Hideyo, separated from the family, has an equally harrowing escape. The longed-for arrival in Japan proves to be an almost greater trial, as their mother, defeated by the discovery that all their Japanese relatives are dead, dies. Together, Yoko and Ko create a home in which to await the return of Hideyo. Watkins writes clearly and movingly, with a straightforward style through which the story unfolds quickly. She skillfully alternates her account of the girls' journey with that of their brother, maintaining readers' interest in both. Watkins is able to describe scenes of death, rape, and other atrocities with a simple directness which has no trace of sensationalism yet in no way diminishes their horror. Readers will be riveted by the events of the escape and struggle for survival, and enriched and inspired by the personalities of the family. Especially well drawn is Yoko's gradual emergence from a frightened, whining child to a strong and courageous young girl. Parallels can be drawn to Holocaust survival stories such as Aranka Siegal's Upon the Head of the Goat (Farrar, 1981) and Esther Hautzig's The Endless Steppe (Crowell, 1968). So Far from the Bamboo Grove should have a place among the finest of them. Louise L. Sherman, Anna C. Scott School, Leonia, N.J.

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Product Details

HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
Edition description:
Product dimensions:
5.10(w) x 7.60(h) x 0.47(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
8 - 12 Years

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

It Was Almost Midnight On July 29, 1945, when my mother, my elder sister Ko, and I, carrying as many of our belongings as we could on our backs, fled our home in its bamboo grove, our friends, and our town, Nanam, in northern Korea, forever.

In darkness Mother checked windows and doors. I was eleven, Ko sixteen. I was very tired and my head was so dizzy I did not know which way I was heading. The cool night air swept my face; still my head was not clear, I saw Mother close the main entrance and lock it.

"Now give me your wrist, Little One," she commanded in a low voice.

I was called "Little One" by my parents and Ko, but my older brother, Hideyo, always teasing, called me "Noisy One" because I often screamed when I was teased and when we frolicked in the house.

My wrist? I hadn't had a night's sleep in two weeks because of the air raids. My head was very hazy.

"Hurry!" Mother found my wrist in the darkness. She was tying a rope to it. "So I won't lose you."

Tying Ko's wrist, she asked, her voice full of worry, "You did leave a note for your father?"

"Yes, Mother."

"I left a note for Hideyo," said Mother. "Oh, I hope he finds it and joins us. He can get in through his window. Now remember, no one knows we are leaving. No matter what, until we reach the train stationbe silent. Understand?"

"Yes," Ko said again. I wanted to cry.

Though we lived in northeastern Korea, we were Japanese. My country, Japan, which I had never seen, had been fightingAmerica and Britain for four years. Because Father was a Japanese government official, working in Manchuria, I had grown up in this ancient town. We were fifty miles from the Manchurian border, and we were so close to the Russian ports, Vladivostok and Nakhodka, across the sea from our harbor. Father came home by train as often as he could.

The shadow of war had been creeping across our peaceful village for months. The most horrible shock had come some weeks before. Mother and I were alone and I was practicing my brush-writing before going to my teacher's house for a calligraphy lesson. Calligraphy is dipping a fat or thin brush in India ink and writing in script or in the square style of Chinese characters.

I had finished my final copy when four Japanese army police burst in through the main door of our house, which only invited guests used, without taking off their shoes.

A mean-looking policeman told Mother, "We are here to collect metal. Iron, bronze, silver, and gold."

Mother stood, bewildered, and he yelled at her.

She gave him Father's treasured silver ashtray set. He threw it in a box and demanded, "More!"

Mother brought her bronze flower vase that stood in the Tokonoma (alcove), where flowers were always elegantly arranged. She began to pull the lovely arrangement of irises out one by one, and the policeman pushed her, yanked out the irises and leaves, and dumped the vase and heavy metal frog inside into the box. Mother's eyes were fixed on that box, but she was silent.

The head one noticed Mother's wedding ring and he demanded that. Then her spectacles, goldrimmed, though she told him she could see nothing without them. They went into the box.

Finally the head police picked up the Mount Fuji paperweight holding my calligraphy copy. That paperweight had been sent to me by Father's mother.

She said it had been passed on to my father from way back and she could still see my father, when young, using it to practice brush-writing. Through this Mount Fuji paperweight I dreamed of seeing the majestic mountain and imagined the beauty of my homeland.

He glanced at my writing, "Bu Un Cho Kyu" (Good Luck in War), then left the sheet and tossed the paperweight into the box.

I had stood there helpless, fists clenched, seething, and the iron weight smashing Mother's important lenses released my fury. I jumped at the head policeman's hand and bit it as hard as I could.

He yelled, but I bit harder. He shook me off, pushed Mother away and made her fall. Then he threw me on the floor and kicked my side and back with heavy army boots that had hard soles with metal cleats. My head went dark. Somewhere in the dark space I heard Mother's anguished cry. "Leave...leave!"

When I awoke, Hideyo, Ko, Mother, and Doctor Yamada were around me. The doctor was a friend of Father's who always treated his patients with a smile, but not this time. He gave me a shot.

Mother was putting a cold towel on my back. Every time I took a deep breath my chest and side pained, and the doctor said I might have cracked ribs. He looked at me through his half-glasses. "No more frolicking, no more crossing the stream. You stay home until I say all right."

He turned to Mother. "I will call my optometrist friend and he will prescribe lenses for you. This is absolutely inexcusable of the military," he said angrily. "The government must be desperate for supplies to make ammunition. Telephone me if a thing like this happens again."

His bald head was shining against the late afternoon sun, and in spite of my misery I remembered what he had said to Father once when he came to the New Year's party — that he must invent a solution to grow black wavy hair.

I was glad I did not have to go to school the next day. For a long time, school had been changing. We studied for only three periods, and the male teachers were wearing army uniforms. Women and girls had to wear the national clothes, by order of Japanese Prime Minister Tojo — khaki pants gathered at the ankles, simply designed long-sleeved blouses.

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So Far From the Bamboo Grove (Rebound) 3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 106 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I don't like it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
First, So Far from the Bamboo Grove is a well-written story of survival, and Ms. Watkins has done an excellent job to bring her alleged experience to life. Her lack of historical contexts, if not complete absence of such, however is at the very least grossly irresponsible. Unsuspecting young minds will question the 'ungratefulness' of the Korean people, as they are portrayed as 'part of the Japanese empire.' They will come home asking, 'Why Koreans are so bad to Yoko?' Ms. Watkins have had decades to put her experience into perspective in larger context of Koreans-Japanese relationship during WWII, and yet she chose to ignore them. Yoko as an 11-year old girl has every right to see her experience 'as is'. Ms. Watkins as an adult, I'm afraid, does not have the same luxury. Second, questions have risen on the historical accuracies of the book. One may question how accurate a sixth-grader book should be, but much of the power of Ms. Watkins' book derives from it. Some are minors such as, 'Does bamboo really grow in cold climate of North Korea? to majors such as, 'Which Anti-Japanese Communist Party is she referring to?' Kim, Il-Sung didn't enter Northen part of Korea until late 1945, and the Party actually was not established until 1948. Third, Some historical contexts taken from other reviewer: 1. Japan forcibly colonialized Korea in 1910 until her independence in 1945. 2. During the brutal colonialization, Koreans are prohibited to use the Korean language, and are forced to adopt Japanese name. False imprisonments and tortures of Korean citizens are commonplace. 3. Young men (numbering in the hundreds of thousands) are forcibly drafted to support Japan's war efforts on the frontline. 4. Girls (as young as 12 years of age and numbering close to 200,000) are uprooted from their home and family to work as 'sex slaves' to Japanese soldiers. They are often forced to served as many as 30 'guests' a day. That means 6 millions 'organized' rapes against Korean women occured everyday since 1943.(The year the practice started) 5. Holocaust denials are punishable offence in most European countries, and yet popular ultra-nationalist Japanese politicians often deny any wrongdoings of Japanese military during WW2 (even those convicted in war crimes tribunal).
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yes. The ones criticizing the book are probably mostly Koreans. Well, if Japan didn't forcibly force Korean women to become sex slaves for the Japanese military, scar them for life, and claim that this never, ever happened, then a third party would have the right to think that Koreans are just whiners. The problem is that 'comfort women' do exist much to some people's dismay. 'Comfort women' are among millions of people oppressed by Imperialist Japan. This book distorts the truth and portrays Koreans as a rapist when it's really the other way around!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is awful in historical context, Yoko paints life on the Korean penninsula poorly and wrongly. The life of the Korean people after Japanese annexation was horrible, atrocious. When the annexation began, the Japanese imperialist power murdered a Korean Queen MyungSeung and forcibly removed Korean Princes from their homelands. None of the horrible things that happended during the Japanese annexation is mentioned, and this book portrays the Koreans as savages, which is completely untrue, if anything, the Japanes are savages in the context that many of the cultural potteries were taken from the Korean penninsula. Perhaps the author should have researched a bit more about the history of the Korean penninsula before she decided to pen this book. Do not let anyone read this book, its books like these that distort history and defaces the values that were learned from history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book only gives you all the wrong history fact.
Guest More than 1 year ago
It is even more important to point out how faith and wrong information continues to divert the real history issues when the author solely relied on her own experience. The danger of this book is being felt in innumerable ways, and the danger goes on growing in terms of brainwashing of children. Her writing is good enough for us to blind emotionally, despite the fact that Japanese actually invaded Korea and committed cruel crimes, such as killing and sending Korean girls into the World War II battle zone as sex slaves for Japanese troops. At first I thought it is both odd and a mistake to refer her home in Korea as 'bamboo groove', which Bamboo can not grow in the northern part in Korea, the setting of this book. However, I can not blame her because I figured out it is not her fault. Mirroring the fact that even current Japanese students do not learn at school what their ancestors had done for other Asian countries, I assumed that she had not received the right information what had happened really in Korea before 1945. What the author was able to do was just relying on her memory, which could be adulterated.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The only people who think this is a good book are kids and teachers who are 100% ignorant about East Asian History and Japanese and/or their whapanese spouses. This book is garbage. You don't teach kids books about portray a KKK family "escaping" from blacks in the deep South in 1960's. You don't teach kids books that portray a daughter of a Nazi soldier from a concentration camp in Poland "escaping" from freed Jewish Holocaust survivors. All the anti-censoringship BS was organized and led by book sellers who make mucho dinero hawking this book to schools across the US who have NO INTEREST whatsoever in history, truth or educational integrity. Don't be a tool and stop forcing innocent kids on this moral garbage of a book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Granted, it is possible that the 'minor'(as one reviewer mentioned) account of rape is true. The multiple inaccuracies throughout the book leave serious doubt whether it happened. On rather light note, bamboo grove did not and does not exist in the northen part of Korea. Ms. Watkins later corrected herself in an interview that it was perhaps 'tall bamboo grass.' The American bombing didn't happened, as public records show. She later said interview that it might be Russians since she doesn't know 'much about bombs.' The Koreans did not have Communist Party until 1948. Il-Sung Kim actually didn't arrive in northen Korea until late 1945. I wonder which communist soldiers she is referring true. Yes, it is possible that there was band of communist guerillas around. But, there were still hundreds, yes hundreds of thousands of Japanese soldiers and polices around. How is it possible for the guerillas to go about in public? A survival story draws much of its strength from the tragedy its protagonist endured, and yet so many instances are fabricated. Yoko's mom(the one who died in the story) was still living in Japan in 1952, and so was her grand mother(also died in the story). Ms. Watkins is a great story-teller, but her recollection is shaky at best, and she shouldn't go around schools touting this book as her autobiography.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I honestly believe this book is full of distortion of Korea-Japan history. Comparing what Japanese soldiers had done to Koreans, I don't think it is fair, even though the experience of Yoko is true, to comment on Korean guilt. This book has been used as text books in American schools but they are withdrawing one by one. I believe this is one example of America admitting that the book distorting of history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I would read it, but not my children.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Her writing is both attractive and shocking. Even though there are diputes regarding distorting the historical fact, this book is also introduced in Korea because her story is touching and also good. One thing I feel sympathy is that the setting she described is far from truth. Were it not for the odd setting, this story could be more attractive even in Asians who had had a terrible memory for World War II. First, due to the severe weather, bamboo is not growing up in northern part in Korea. Second, Korea was divided into North and South Korea in 1948. Since the setting is 1945, still Japanese ruled in Korea, which means there were no communist army at that time. Despite those flaws, this book is worth for discussions among people especially who are aware of Asian history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
She claims this is a true story. Well, not true in so many ways. First in Nanam, where she claimed she lived, bamboo can't grow. So she lied from her title. Full of lies, you don't want your children read this garbage. Outstanding lies.
Guest More than 1 year ago
despite many historical errors in this book, i have no problem with the author exercising her first amendment right or consumers spending their time and money in whatever and however way it pleases them. however, i have problem with this book's target audience being children ages 9 to 12 since it places things out of perspective. remember, yoko's people/ govt/ father were the oppressor and people she claims to have resented her people (aka koreans) were the oppressed. many korean (+ other asian such as chinese and filipino) girls her age at the time were being kidnapped to be sexual slaves for the japanese soldiers. yoko may have enjoyed happy life in america after her horrible experience while her counterpart asian girls spent rest of their life in hopelessness and destitution. as a korean-american, i personally have nothing against the author or the japanese people. i just do not want my child or any children for that matter to read this book in school since there is nothing educational about this book.
dtow More than 1 year ago
This is an autobiography of the author's experiences as an 11 year old Japanese living in Korea in 1945 near the end of WWII, when she and her family had to flee from Nanam, a city in northern Korea to travel south to Seoul, then to Pusan to be repatriated to Japan. This occurred at a time when the Korean people were regaining control of their homeland from the occupying Japanese. In assessing whether a book like Yoko Kawashima Watkins' "So Far from the Bamboo Grove" should be included as required or recommended reading for students in middle schools, one needs to distinguish two perspectives. One perspective is whether the author is accurately reporting her own experiences and her own understanding of the events. The other perspective is whether a reader, especially a young reader, who has no knowledge of that period of history, after reading this book would get a very much distorted understanding of that part of history. With respect to the first perspective, although I do not want to question the accuracy of the author's reporting of her experiences as a young child, I do want to point out that when she wrote this book, she was already an adult. So she should know very well the reality of that part of history, in particular, the Japanese as a whole were not victims, but the Japanese government and military were the invaders and ruthless instigators of the violence. In the text of the book, the author should have at least explained clearly and more fully this larger context in which her experiences occurred. It is not sufficient just to add a preface to a later edition of the book stating that her book was never intended to be a defense of the Japanese. With respect to the second perspective, what concerns me the most is that a reader, who has no knowledge of that period, which would be the case for essentially all young American readers, would get a very much distorted understanding of that part of history. The reader would not understand that the Japanese were the invaders of Korea and the aggressors, that the Japanese had done terrible and massive atrocities against the Koreans and other people in Asia, and the reader would not understand that there was justifiable hatred of the Japanese occupiers by the Koreans. Thus, from both perspectives, there are good arguments against this book. Education leaders of a school district have the duty and moral obligation that they should not require, recommend, or encourage their students to read books that could give rise to such a distorted understanding of history.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
How many Americans died in WWII to defeat the Japanese Empire?? The Japanese were killing and conquering all over the Pacific and Asian continents and tried to do the same by attacking the US. Portraying the invading Japanese as the victims is ridiculous revisionist stupidity but then having this taught in US schools is downright irresponsible and a slap in the face of all the Americans who died in WWII. Get a little common sense perspective.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book is just a another japanese imperialism book, dont get me wrong, I am not predijuce against japanese, but I am predijusce against ths book. This book is just a lie. I cant believe so many people is reading this and believing it. First of all like the other people wrote review Koreans were the victim. Millions of Koreans were drifted to army, and Korean girls were used as a sex slve. All I want to do is to meet this Yoko and call her a lier and a fraud in front of everyone. Also as a novel it sucked
Guest More than 1 year ago
You should read some Asian history books before you wrote this book. I cannot believe this book which is used as a reading material for students. This must give the students lies.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Yoko wrote about 'NORTH KOREA'(communism) So please don't misunderstand.
Guest More than 1 year ago
when I was reading, I said 'This is not true story. what a ....!!' I demand yoko explain its suspected involvement in the distortion of history in this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Truthfully, Korea was invaded by Japan and was taken a long time ago. If you check history maps, you will see that in the beginning of WWII Korea was still a colony. It is a proven fact that Koreans were taken to camps that were like Concentration Camps for Japanese. Koreans still live today that were harassed by brutal Japanese. Lets speak logic, if Koreans came up and raped a girl, would Japan let them get away for its colonies behaving so badly? No. That is why it is the opposite. That would mean it had to be Japan raping Korea. In other words, Korea is a colony of Japan. Japan has soldiers. If Japanese were raped by Koreans, would the Koreans exist? Could it even be possible, with the constant threat of being killed if they raped a Japanese? But if a Japanese raped a Korean, why would the government care? Korea was taken over so then they can't do anything. Also, how do we know that these facts are true? Do they have proof that Koreans did this? This book is very distorted. You must agree. After invading Korea, the official government of Japan ordered officially the raping of Korean Girls. The government sent captured Koreans over to the Japanese army. They women A.K.A. the 'comfort women' were raped and harassed by the army. Shame, and this was officially allowed by the Japanese government. There are a couple type of people in this world. One type is generous and doesn't seek revenge. Other people can't help it but feel angry and take revenge for what people did. One or two ANGRY Koreans might have raped a Japanese but that was personal. It still was wrong but it was better than what the Japanese did. Their government had ordered them to RAPE and SEXUALLY HARRASS KOREAN WOMEN. Special Army unit 731 was a drafted army made out of Chinese and Koreans. This unit was an 'experiment'. The government tested many things on them. For example 'How long would a person have to work to lose his finger?' This was one of the things they tested on the drafted soldiers. They even did not see them as 'humans'. They called them logs. Logs are the tree parts that were cut. Logs are dead and not alive. They could not see them as human or how could they test on them. They did things that we don't do to animals today. Another thing the Japanese tested on them was to see how much body parts a person had to lose before he died. How long would people have to last in steam before they suffocated and died. This is an act of shame. Animals get better treatments than this. How shameful to write a book against Koreans when all this has happened, if you are going to tell a story, TELL THE WHOLE STORY. In conclusion, I do not understand how this book got into a middle school curriculum. Even though this story MAY(very small chance though) be true, this book is very biased and did not tell the whole story. I think this book needs to be worked on and corrected. Many mistakes are in the book and distorts Korean History and that changes many things. Just let me say one more thing, how would Japanese people like it if I happened to write a book about the REAL story with the whole history in it. Maybe that will clear things up. Just food for thought huh?
Guest More than 1 year ago
I cannot beleive this book is recommended for the students. This is very very dangerous reading material that is far from the truth. If you have a little bit of common sense, you will realize history is distorted by the author. Shame on you, Yoko. This book is not even worth a one star. If you are a teacher and recommending this book to the students, please check your common sense as a teacher.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is totally modified, just for Japan's benefit. Most of the contents in this book were not true, and it portrays that Korea were the agressors when instead, they were the victims. Yoko wrote a story to cover up and make people believe that the Japanese were the victims of the Koreans. However, in reality, the story in this book is not as bad compared to what the Japanese did to Korea. I am worried for the people who read this book without knowing what really happened in the Korean-Japanese history. This book covers the truth of who the real victims were. Kids should not be reading this book for a school assignment because it will lead them to believe false stories about Korea. So before making any conclusions about Korea, find out the true history instead of believing this false one.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Before you read this book you should know the background history of this story. You may not know there were about 200,000 womens (mostly Koreans) forced to become sexual slaves for Japanese Millitary during the war. That was an indelible blot in human history. This book hides the bloody massacre of innocent people by the Japanese and beautifies them implicitly. You should know who was the oppressor and who was the weak.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book has a dangerous potential that could mislead young children.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I am very frustrated and sad that people( esp students)who read this book get the wrong information about the history between korea and japan.japan did the most cruel things that I even can't describe to korean,chinese and other asians. In this book, the writer made it totally opposite way.(how deceitful and cunning)