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book summary of "so far from the bamboo grove"

Eleven-year old Yoko must leave Korea with what can be gathered of her family toward the end of World War II. Her country, Japan, is losing the war. The Korean army is killing Japanese people on sight, and she must make it from the far northern village of Nanam to Seoul, and then to Pussan where the family can take a refugee boat back to Japan. The journey to Seoul from Nanam is about three hundred and fifty miles of stark terror. This story is a memoir of the experiences that the author went through at a tender age, during which she loses both her childhood and innocence. Heart wrenching scenes pile up until Yoko and her big sister Ko find themselves alone in Kyoto, one of the few cities to have escaped allied bombing. They do what they can to get by while not knowing of the fates of their father and brother. While the war went on, it did not touch their simple and peaceful life in Nanam. Once it came toward an end and the Koreans started killing the Japanese while the Chinese came down from the north, the family could do nothing but run in whatever fashion they could, somehow making it through the hostile northern territory to the relatively benign southern part of Korea. Yoko relates in parallel what her brother was going through at the time and how he had to masquerade as a Korean to survive. The fact that she can tell his story gives the reader hope that her brother will indeed survive, and there is a reunion at the end. But the point is not about the brother's return to Japan. This story is about moving from comfort to a living hell in an instant. It is also about the strength of family love in extreme hardships. Hardly a page goes by without giving the reader strong emotional responses, often in the form of tears, and sometimes those tears are for joy over some simple little act of kindness. A drink of water is more precious when given in hell. Yoko and Ko make a powerful sister act. They grow very close while dealing with their hardscrabble life, and Yoko advances in maturity far beyond her years. It is not a coming of age but a passing over to another level of age, and rapidly as if the two young sisters become middle-aged friends by the end of a haiku. The artful language the author employs is brief and echoes of Japanese poetic literature: "Ko kept staring at the Korean peninsula, fading away slowly, and tears were falling on her cheek. It was the first time I had seen Ko cry since we left home. Quietly I went to sit close to Mother, whose face also was wet with tears that she could not stop" (p. 91). The book is short, 183 pages including the publisher's notes. The notes flesh out details that the reader might be interested in knowing, but the story stands on its own without apology or shame. It ends, as it must, in the bittersweet realization that the family is now so far from the bamboo grove that it can never return.

yoko

Yoko is the eleven-year-old Japanese girl, who narrates the story. She does not understand much of why the war is going on, but she does understand that the Korean Communists want to kill her, her sister and her mother. She also understands that her brother and father are in grave danger as the Second World War comes to an end with a Japanese defeat.

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