So Far from the Bamboo Grove

by Yoko Kawashima Watkins

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So Far from the Bamboo Grove is a moving, realistic portrayal of survival and the horrible effects of war: death, injury, crime, separation from family and friends, interruptions in schooling, and political turmoil.

The effectively told story evokes emotions on the part of young readers. They may cringe as they read about how the newborn baby in the Red Cross car must be bathed with urine because there is no water and may wince when reading about the piece of metal removed from Yoko’s ear. Readers may also feel angry at the hate demonstrated by war crimes and be incensed by the callous behavior of prejudiced schoolchildren. Sensitive readers will more than likely be moved to tears when Yoko and Ko lose their beloved mother.

Each chapter of the suspenseful narrative ends with a cliffhanger or statement that moves the young reader through the novel, making it a difficult book to put down. Yoko Kawashima Watkins skillfully weaves her story, integrating the account of the perilous journey with personal and historical facts. Thus, readers are led to understand the Japanese view and experience during World War II.

The most powerful impact of this autobiography is the message of survival. The author faces the worst of circumstances, yet she does not give up. Forced to grow up early, live in poverty, and struggle to survive emotionally and physically without parental support, she continues on. She attends school, collects scrap paper on which to do her work, and excels in her academics. Although she nearly starves and is the most poorly clad child in her Kyoto school, she looks beyond her circumstances to dreams of a successful future as a writer. Staying true to her dream and working with undaunted diligence, she sees her dream come true.

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