Controversy continues over American textbook book that "distorts" the history of Japan’s colonialism in Korea

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    If you follow Korea blogs, you may have heard about the controversy over a book being used as a text in some American schools that supposedly “distorts” history. The book, So Far from the Bamboo Grove, which was written as a semi-autographical work of fiction by Japanese-American Yoko Kawashima Watkins, tells the story of a Japanese child and her family fleeing the Korean peninsula following Japan’s defeat in World War 2. Here’s how a January 17th article from the Chosun Ilbo described it:

    Written by Japanese-American Yoko Kawashima Watkins, “So Far from the Bamboo Grove” depicts the time when the Japanese colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula ended in 1945 from the perspective of 11-year old Yoko, who has to flee Korea with her family. In the story, reportedly based on the real-life experiences of the writer, young Yoko witnesses Koreans’ ruthless attacks and rape of the fleeing Japanese and the ensuing hunger, agony and death while she escapes from Nanam in today’s North Korea through Seoul and Busan to Japan.

    The Korean American parents of children forced to read this “distortion” of history were quick to alert the wider Korean American community as a whole, which in turn alerted the South Korean government. What resulted was a massive pressure campaign against school boards which used the book as a text. They accused the American schools of teaching the book without providing a historical context, and worried that the book was demonizing Koreans. Korean netizens struck the first blows by flooding Amazon.com’s page for So Far from the Bamboo Grove with 1 star reviews from people claiming that the book distorted history and writing an incredibly crappy wikipedia entry. Some Korean journalists printed wild speculation that Yoko Kawashima Watkin’s father was a member of the infamous Unit 731. Amid the nationalist frenzy, the publisher of the Korean translation of So Far from the Bamboo Grove decided to halt further sales of the book, as it would be inappropriate to sell a book that had been written by the daughter of a man the media had decided was a horrible war criminal.

    Sonagi, a regular commenter on major Korea blogs, has written a guest post on Occidentalism about the book:

    Here and over at the Marmot’s Hole, the controversy surrounding the book has elicited a contentious debate. Most of the commenters, like most of the Koreans and Korean-Americans protesting this book, haven’t actually read it. I bought the book, read it this week, and would like to accept Matt’s kind suggestion to write a review to give others an accurate idea of what the story is about….

    If you’re interested in the truth about this book’s contents, rather than the assumptions of journalists and commenters who have never read it, I suggest you read Sonagi’s post. If you have any friends who told you about Kawashima Watkin’s “distorted” book, I suggest you send them the link as well!

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