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Biography

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 279

Yoko Kawashima Watkins is of Japanese ancestry but was born in Harbin, Manchuria in 1933, then moved to North Korea where she lived with her family while her father worked as a Japanese government official during World War II. She lived in a bamboo grove in Nanam until 1945, when the Russian and Korean Communist forces, angered at years of Japanese oppression, escalated their warfare and drove hordes of Japanese people out of the country. Yoko lived a comfortable life in the bamboo grove until the age of eleven, when she, her mother, and her sister Ko were forced to flee to Japan and leave her father and brother Hideyo behind. After her harrowing ordeal as a refugee she learned how to survive and persevere. Watkins worked hard, became educated in Kyoto, and learned English well enough to work as a typist and a translator at Misawa American Air Force base. She married a pilot named Donald Watkins in 1953, moved with him to America in 1958, then settled in Massachusetts and raised six children, two of them Taiwanese orphans. In 1976, thirty-one years after her escape from Korea, Watkins began writing her story. She spent the next eleven years reliving anguished memories and finally published her first book in 1986. Once again she was rewarded for her strength. Her vivid portrayal of life as a Korean refugee won her praise as a young adult writer, and she won numerous awards both for So Far from the Bamboo Grove and for its sequel, My Brother, My Sister, and I. Watkins also wrote a book of Japanese folk tales, and she continues to educate young people about the horrors of war by lecturing about her experiences.

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