Korean Americans Protest Inclusion of Controversial Novel

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Editors Note: The addition onto class reading lists of a novel written by a Japanese American depicting her experiences in wartime Korea has led to a bitter dispute between supporters of the novel and the Korean American community, who say their history being distorted. Aruna Lee is a writer for New America Media.

SAN FRANCISCO -- Korean American parents in Los Angeles, New York and Boston are protesting the addition of a novel in school reading lists that they say inaccurately depicts Koreans as egregious wartime abusers. Many say their children are being forced to learn a distorted version of history.

"So Far from the Bamboo Grove" by Yoko Kawashima Watkins is a fictionalized autobiography based on Watkins' experiences. It tells the story of the flight of Japanese families from Korea after World War II and the many atrocities they suffered at the hands of Koreans.

A seventh-grade student at Westchester Country Day School in New York, Bo Un Heo is one of several students who refused to attend class while the novel remained on the school's reading list."I wasn't nervous about missing class because I knew it was the right thing to do," Heo said. Parents charge that the novel is not only historically inaccurate, but that it also fails to address the decades of abuse Koreans suffered at the hands of Japanese colonial administrators.

One example they point to is the fact that no mention is made in Watkins' novel of the many Korean women forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese military. The issue remains a major point of controversy between the neighboring countries. Survivors of Japanese abuse, so called" comfort women," still stage weekly protests in front of the Japanese embassy in Seoul.

In the novel, Watkins instead writes about Japanese women who were raped by Koreans and other atrocities following the surrender of Japan to Allied forces.

Koreans in the United States and in Korea have challenged the authenticity of these and other accounts in the novel, however, arguing that the rape of Japanese women by Koreans could never have occurred as the Japanese military presence remained throughout the country until well after American and Russian forces arrived in the area. They also contend that Watkins' accounts of U.S.-led bombing in Korea never occurred during the period covered in the novel, and, for example, her descriptions of removing the uniform of a dead Communist soldier are false since the Communist army did not exist until 1948, years after the events in Watkins' tale....

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