Saturday, February 03, 2007

Boston area Korean raises ruckus about Japanese book

This is a story that is getting a ton of play over here in Korea. A Boston area Korean-American girl was reading "So Far from the Bamboo Grove", a book by Japanese immigrant Yoko Kawashima Watkins about her family's escape from Japanese-occupied Korea at the end of World War 2. The Koreans in the book are represented as a threat to the life of her and other families of Japanese occupying forces. I don't know enough about this topic to speak with authority, but the Korean historians claim that most of the circumstances appearing in Watkins' book are not supported by the fact. Yoko claims that she witnessed rape of Japanese girls by Koreans, that she and her family walked hundreds of miles, travelling at night to escape hostile Korean soldiers. She claims her father attended Oxford, but Oxford has no record of his attendance.
This issue and its response by the media galls me. Whether or not Korea was an out of control place at the time in question, I have no doubt that a young girl whose father is part of an occupying force, undoubtedly prejudiced against the natives and suddenly faced with her distant homeland's loss in a massive war and the collapse of the colonial force in the land where she had been born, would undoubtedly be profoundly effected by her efforts to escape. Everybody knows memory is imperfect, and the book is an unresearched memoir, yet the back cover of the book declares it a true story. Now I don't know if the Korean forces were raping and killing fleeing Japanese women and children, but if I were in the same situation as them, can I truly say I wouldn't be angry enough to threaten the fleeing Japanese? I bet it was scary as hell, shooting or none.
Now, back to history. The book contains a lot of what the fashionable Asian media call "historical distortions'. That seems pretty clear. The issue is that the book is not a history book, it is a memoir and is being taught by English teachers. English teachers universally acknowledge that this is a good book for kids to read, and specifically point to the rape scene as valuable. What Boston public schools decided, and what I think they should have done all along, is instead of accompanying this book with a bunch of half-assed cultural activities folding paper cranes and drinking Arizona Sweetened Green Tea, they should teach the historical background of the book, including the colonization of Korea and the brutality of the Japanese regime in Korea. Then they can take the book with a grain of salt.

No comments: