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Thursday, February 15, 2007

Korean officials join fray on book



The South Korean Consulate has asked the state Department of Education to rethink its use of ‘‘So Far From the Bamboo Grove,’’ an award-winning memoir of an 11-year-old Japanese girl fleeing Japanese-occupied Korea with her family at the end of World War II.

The book is part of the curriculum in a number of Massachusetts middle schools but became a source of controversy last fall when a group of Dover-Sherborn parents, including Korean-Americans, objected to it, calling it propaganda that glosses over brutality inflicted on Koreans by their Japanese occupiers.

Controversy over the book is growing nationally and internationally. On Feb. 3, the reclusive North Korean government criticized the United States for allowing the book to be taught. In Hawaii, South Korean officials also asked educators to reevaluate use of the book. And in South Korea, local news media have jumped on the story.

In her letter to the state Department of Education, Youngsun Ji, consul general for the Republic of Korea, said the book gives ‘‘a false and distorted view of Korea as a country and of the Korean people.’’ The South Korean consulate, based in Newton, further complained that the book depicts Koreans as ‘‘evil predators’’ and asked the state to ‘‘seriously reevaluate the appropriateness of this book for reading at the middle school level.’’

The consulate wrote the state on Jan. 16, but the letter is surfacing just as the book’s author, Cape Cod resident Yoko Kawashima Watkins, prepares for a press conference today to defend herself against the complaints about her book.

Watkins has said that she didn't intend to avoid the history of Japanese-Korean relations but was trying to focus on her story of survival.

Watkins is one of 60 authors recommended by the state Department of Education for grades 5 though 8. But the department is refusing to get involved in the controversy.

‘‘This is a local issue decided by individual districts,’’ said Nate Mackinnon, a spokesman for the department. ‘‘We don’t tell districts what they can and cannot teach.’’

Read more about the controversy in today's Globe West.

-- Lisa Kocian

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