Graphic Novel · Historical Fiction · Review · Young Adult

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

the-color-of-earth-by-kim-dong-hwaSeries: Color Trilogy, #1

Translator: Lauren Na

Publisher: First Second

Pub. Date: 2003, 2009

Genres: Historical Fiction, Sunjung Manhwa

Pages: 319

Rating: 4 out of 5 Stars

Ehwa, a Korean girl raised by a single mother, overhears conversations that confuse her about the world and her body, and her mother answers her questions with wisdom. She learns what exactly it means to be a girl, a woman, and in love. As Ehwa grows up, she develops new understandings of love and comes to terms with her feelings for the two boys that caught her eye. Kim Dong Hwa’s The Color of Earth is a coming-of-age story about love and the rite of passage into womanhood.

I saw this on the shelf at the library, and I was intrigued because one of the middle pages I opened to showed puberty. Later, I learned from the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund that it was one of the most frequently challenged books in 2011 listed on the ALA because of “nudity, sexual content and suitability for age group.” This added a minor reason to read it. Another small reason was that I have never read a graphic novel with deckle edges.

The mother and her daughter are the primary round characters, and the monk grows some—beyond his own puberty. The mother runs a tavern where men make vulgar comments about this profession and her status as a single mother (widow). Ehwa, whose name is the same as the goddess in Avatar (2009) in pronunciation, is an observant, pretty girl whose observations bring minor alarm and amusement to her mother. She learns the way of the world in a peaceful manner. Mother and daughter talk in great depth about life, and the growing girl will tease her mother about her love interests. I liked seeing a close relationship between mother and daughter for once. Ehwa also develops feelings for a young monk and a boy from her village who reciprocate. While the other characters remain only flat, Kim draws physical growth and makes the characters look different from each other beyond hair style.

The artwork contrasts simplicity with the ornate, which creates a soft tone and sets a slower pace. The people are drawn with simple lines and features, which contrasts with the scenery. The most beautiful artwork in the Korean manhwa, a comic book, are the two-page illustrations with the incredibly detailed nature backgrounds. They are detailed, showing every rock, leaf, and strip of bark. The ornate drawings look like black-and-white pastoral paintings. This is as close as an ink drawing can get to photograph quality. This helps with the historical setting.

Kim’s writing style is poetic, especially between mother and daughter. The words (and some of the actions) are filled with symbolism about beauty, love, and sex. They remind me of the snippets of poetry in The Tale of Genji by Murasaki Shikibu. Lauren Na, the translator, leaves footnotes that define phrases the English-speaking reader would not otherwise understand. This is very necessary for mostly the insinuations from the men.

If you like shoujo manga, you will probably like The Color of Earth since the genre is equivalent to sunjung manhwa (targeted at young girls). As a book of romance, it takes a light, serious tone that does not make decisions about love dramatic like some young adult love triangles, and it is all beautiful.

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