May 02, 2016

Monday Repost: THE COLOR OF EARTH by Kim Dong Hwa

I'm reposting this review in honor of the fact that I am, RIGHT THIS VERY MINUTE, traveling in South Korea, and this graphic novel was one of my earlier introductions to Korean culture and history from the perspective of literature. In fact, it's a trilogy, and a lovely one. So I thought it would be a good time to revisit it, just in case I'm too busy to put up a new post while I'm gone....

I was also looking forward to The Color of Earth, because it would be my first major foray into manhwa, or Korean manga. This first chapter in the trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa could be classified (in Japanese) as shojo, since the coming-of-age tale of a young Korean woman may appeal most to female readers. (And this is fabulous—I applaud any and all efforts to increase the amount of graphic literature with appeal for young women, especially now that Minx is defunct.) My understanding from the foreword is that this tale is based on the life of the author's mother, a sort of tribute to her growing-up years in a rural Korean village. The artwork reflects this, illustrating with sensitivity and vividness, remaining simple and expressive throughout, yet unafraid to add flourishes and whole spreads rendered in exquisite detail when called for by the storytelling.

The story opens with Ehwa as a very young girl, living with her widowed mother the tavern-keeper. As she grows older and into young womanhood over the course of the book, we see her gradually gain insight and understanding into not only her own growth and maturity, but also into her mother's life as a single female tavern-keeper, subject to all sorts of racy gossip while also leading a relatively lonely existence. At the same time that we get a window into traditional Korean culture of the somewhat recent past, it's the universal elements of the story that will make it really resonate with Western readers—curiosity about one's own growing body, the opposite sex, and the lives of the surrounding adults; loneliness and companionship and love.

I received my copy of this book courtesy of the publisher, First Second. You can find THE COLOR OF EARTH by Kim Dong Hwa and its two sequels at an online e-tailer, or at a real life, independent bookstore near you!

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