Wednesday, September 23, 2009

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa

I'm not quite sure why it took me so long to read this. I don't mean so long to pick it up, because that wasn't it -- I picked it up, read a bit, put it down, picked it up again, read more, read a couple of novels in between, read more... it just seemed to be a long process, which is unusual for me. It wasn't that I didn't like this book, because I really did. In fact, it keeps growing on me even after I've finished. Images are stuck in my head, and keep popping up at different times, and have been doing that since I started reading it. I think in some ways, I found this book a bit like a hot bath -- very pleasureable, as long as I eased myself into it.

This lovely graphic novel tells the story of Ehwa, a Korean girl growing up in a small village with her widowed mother. It explores love, sexuality, and gender relations and roles, all in a beautifully poetic way. There are some very funny moments, and some very tender moments, and some almost painful moments. There are parts of it that cut a little close to home, which I think was part of my strange reluctance to read it sometimes. Some experiences in growing up are universal, no matter where or when you grew up. That wondering if you're the only one in the world as weird as you are, for example; that feeling of alienation even from those you consider your friends. And that first confusing feeling of love, and then feeling even more confused when you realize there's more than one desireable person out there. I felt very close to Ehwa at many points throughout.

On the whole, I think I enjoyed Ehwa's relationship with her mother the most. This is wonderfully rendered, with Ehwa often seeing more than her mother realizes, and her mother guiding and advising Ehwa honestly and gracefully. I love how supportive they are of each other, and how strong Ehwa's mother is. It's a nice change from a lot of stories I read, where parents are either entirely absent or emotionally absent, or dysfunctional and villainous.

As I said, I'm still turning this one over in my head. It's a story that requires some contemplation and quiet enjoyment. This is a different kind of graphic novel than I'm used to, and I'm very grateful to Mandy, who sent this book my way when I won a giveaway on the Words Worth Books blog. I don't think I would have picked it up otherwise, but I'm very glad I had the opportunity to read it. It reads and proceeds like poetry -- slowly and to be savoured. I'm looking forward to the next two, The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven.

9 comments:

Mandy said...

*sharp intake of breath* Yes! There is so much happening in this book. So many feelings and insights and relationships. I'm taking a break from reading the third installment because I'm emotionally involved with one of the characters and am afraid to see what will happen. And, I'm afraid of this trilogy ending.
I also connected with the social situations in the book. They ARE universal, for sure.
The author had a strong relationship with his mother and I believe her life inspired him while he was writing these books.

THANKS for the review! *releases breath*

June said...

I'm so glad you persevered. Your review led me to the book. I cannot wait to explore the trilogy. Thank you.

kiirstin said...

Mandy - YES! I can totally see how it would be hard to read the last book. I am already emotionally invested in a couple of the characters. Which is always good and bad, and it makes endings particularly hard. You are welcome for the review, of course! Thank you so much for giving the book to me!

June - Thank you for stopping by! Even just from reading your blog, I think you would really appreciate this book. Something I didn't mention is the strong floral theme that runs through the story, which I suspect you would also really like. I'm looking forward to finding out what you thought of it!

Nan said...

is it set in an older time, Kiirstin? Is it a YA book or for adults, or both?

kiirstin said...

Nan - Older; the edition I have suggests "a couple generations ago" but I don't have nearly enough of a grasp of Korean history or culture to be able to pinpoint the period.

I would definitely say older YA to adult would enjoy this; mature younger YAs would likely enjoy it as well.

Phyl said...

So the essential feeling is that you enjoyed the book, but the emotional depth and connection is what makes it harder to read?

It sounds beautiful; if I can search it out, I think I will.

I'm always astounded and impressed and even grateful to discover just how much depth and story can be expressed in a graphic novel.

kiirstin said...

Phyl - Yes! That's exactly it. This is why *you're* the professional writer... ;)

If you'd like a chance to read it and can't find it, I'd be happy to lend my copy to you. Let me know!

Nymeth said...

I suspected as much already, but you confirmed it - I NEED this book!

kiirstin said...

Nymeth - It fits right in with your mission to read everything First Second has published, I believe...