So Far from the Bamboo Grove

by Yoko Kawashima Watkins

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Critical Context

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The canon of juvenile literature contains a plethora of books offering European perspectives of World War II, such as Marie McSwigan’s Snow Treasure (1942) or Anne Frank’s Het Achterhuis (1947; The Diary of a Young Girl, 1952). Only a few juvenile books, however, describe the Asian or Asian American experiences during the war. Baseball Saved Us (1993), a picture book by Ken Mochizuki, tells of the Japanese American experience of being in an internment camp in the United States, and Jeanne Wakatsuki Houston’s autobiography Farewell to Manzanar (1973), co-written with James Houston, relates for older readers the author’s years in such a camp. The riveting narrative of Laurence Yep’s Hiroshima (1995), a short novel for younger readers, simultaneously traces the experiences of twelve-year-old Sachi in Japan and the pilots of the American plane the Enola Gay as they drop the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, on August 6, 1945. Yep traces Sachi’s painful adaptation to the devastating effects of the bomb. Hiroshima, if read in conjunction with So Far from the Bamboo Grove, offers young readers insight into what Mrs. Kawashima experienced when she found her parents dead and their town devastated by the bomb.

Yoko Kawashima Watkins wrote two other books that help the reader understand her experience. The sequel to So Far from the Bamboo Grove is My Brother, My Sister, and I (1994), which describes the attempt of the three siblings to reunite with their father, who had been in a prison camp. The introduction to Tales from the Bamboo Grove (1992) describes Watkins’ childhood in the Kawashima household. The book includes six folktales told by her parents during Yoko’s early childhood. Recording these childhood memories from supper time was essential for the author so that she could remember these joyful, secure family times before they were destroyed by war.

Watkins’ memoir So Far from the Bamboo Grove is the first effective account of the Japanese experience in Korea during World War II that is accessible to young readers. It therefore holds a unique place in the canon of juvenile literature. Watkins is a gifted writer whose works are growing in popularity.

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