So Far from the Bamboo Grove

by Yoko Kawashima Watkins

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Discussion Topic

Summary and Analysis of Key Events in "So Far From the Bamboo Grove"


In So Far From the Bamboo Grove, the narrative follows Yoko Kawashima and her family's harrowing escape from Korea to Japan during World War II. Key events include their perilous journey on foot, facing numerous dangers such as bombings and starvation, and their struggle to reunite with family members. The story highlights themes of survival, resilience, and the impacts of war on civilians.

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Can you summarize chapter 2 of So Far From The Bamboo Grove?

Yoko, Ko and Mother make their way towards the train station along the river. They are approached by Korean soldiers but are able to hide successfully. The family overhears the soldiers talking about killing Japanese.

Upon reaching the train station, the family sees that it has turned into a triage center, packed with seriously wounded people. They have written permission from Corporal Matsumura to board the train even though they are not sick and they are allowed to board the women's boxcar. Patients continue to get sicker and sicker and some even die on the trip.

Ko takes over as caregiver, looking after both Yoko who struggles with thirst and hunger, and Mother. When the train stops for coal and water, the Korean Communists board the train to search out those who should not have been on the train. The nurse helps Yoko, Ko and Mother hide amongst the patients by disguising them with bloodied clothes. The Communists leave when the nurse tells them that Mother has smallpox. Unable to continue hiding safely on the train, the family jumps off the train and starts to follow the tracks towards Seoul.

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What are the major events in chapters 1-3 of So Far From the Bamboo Grove?

The events in these chapters mostly concern the kind of life that Yoko and her mother, sister and brother enjoy in North Korea under Japanese occupation. However, tragedy strikes when they are forced to evacuate and to try and leave as quickly as possible due to war. Hideyo, Yoko's brother, has deliberately failed a test in order to avoid being conscripted into the Japanese military, and has been sent to work in a munitions factory instead, so he is not with his mother and sisters when they are forced to evacuate. Yoko and her mother and sister manage to board a hospital train to take them away, but when the train is inspected, they are under threat of discovery, until they are disguised as being ill and sick:

The nurse and medic were doing crazy things. They took off my bloodstained blouse and rubbed it against Mother's and Ko's faces. The nurse undid Mother's hair and spread it against the mat. She told me to put my stained blouse back on and lie down.

Of course, these "crazy things," as Yoko quickly realises, are actually meant to protect them, as the Communist soldiers have been given specific instructions to find Yoko and her family. By disguising them as sick, wounded patients, they are able to escape detection. Finally, in Chapter 3, Ko and Yoko disguise themselves, cutting their hair. In particular, Ko, Yoko's older sister, gets hold of a communist soldier's uniform and wears it so that she can protect her mother and younger sister.

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What occurs in Chapter 8 of "So Far From the Bamboo Grove"?

In Chapter 8, Yoko's patience with the trash man allows her to enjoy a conversation with him despite his speech impediment. Later, Yoko discovers that the girls in the classroom have made an insulting drawing about her two rucksacks; however, the trash man suddenly materializes and tears up the drawing.

Meanwhile, Yoko doesn't know how to break the news to Ko that she no longer wishes to attend school. As the days progress, the only thing she has to look forward to is her mother's return. One Friday, her mother does return, and Yoko is ecstatic. However, her mother gravely informs her that her maternal grandparents have died in the July bombing, along with her paternal grandparents. As they converse, Yoko realizes that her mother is sick. She races to get her mother some water from the well and fervently hopes that Ko will soon be back from school.

Sadly, the girls' mother dies before Ko returns. Because the girls cannot afford a casket, they decide to have their mother cremated. Mrs. Masuda, a woman who regularly frequents the train station, offers to go to the crematorium with the girls. Both Ko and Yoko are in such a state of grief that they can only acquiesce. Eventually, Mrs. Masuda offers the girls a place to live; their living space will be a room above the clog factory owned by her and her husband.

The girls set to work to clean up the room, as it has not been cleaned in a while. After they are done, they set up an altar in their mother's memory and place her mess-kit urn in front of the altar. In front of the urn, the girls also place their mother's sword and her canteen filled with small, maple branches.

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