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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Author defends "Bamboo Grove'' memoir

By Lisa Kocian
Globe Staff

SHERBORN –Yoko Kawashima Watkins, a soft-spoken 73-year-old author from Cape Cod, Thursday stood before an angry audience that included seven South Korean media outlets to defend a controversial memoir that has stirred debate from the Boston suburbs to Hawaii.

But in defending her book, “So Far From the Bamboo Grove,” she also was pulled into a decades old debate over the Japanese occupation of Korea that ended in 1945.

“Yoko has become a symbol for the problems between Japan and Korea,” said John D’Auria, principal at Wellesley Middle School,
where Watkins’ book has been taught for 13 years.

Her award-winning memoir, taught in many middle schools in greater Boston and around the US, is about her family’s harrowing escape from Korea in 1945, when Japanese families like hers were ousted after 35 years of occupation. But Korean-Americans and at least three South Korean consulates around the United States complain that her book, told through the eyes of an 11-year-old, distorts history.

Korean-American parents complain that she paints the Koreans as rapists and murderers without discussing the decades of atrocities committed by the Japanese during a brutal occupation that included forcing young women into sexual slavery and torturing Koreans to death.

Thursday, dressed simply in black sneakers, brown pants, and a blouse buttoned up to her neck, Watkins opened a press conference with an apology before about 60 people to the Sherborn Peace Abbey.

“I am extremely sorry for causing the commotion over ‘So Far From the Bamboo Grove,’” she said.

Watkins, who describes herself as a peace activist, told the audience that she is willing to call her publisher to see if a new forward with more history can be written for the next edition.

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