November 28, 2009

The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa


The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa, translated by Lauren Na
The Story of Life on the Golden Fields Vol. 1

Pages: 319 pgs.
Ages: 16+
First Published: (Apr. 2009 Eng. trans) (2003 orig. Korean)
Rating: 4.5/5

First sentence:

"Golly! Them beetles are matin'."


Reason for Reading: Cybils nominee.

Summary: This is the story of two women, one a little and the other her young widowed mother. The story focuses on the little girl and her awakening identity as a woman, and also as a side story is her mother who finds love again for the first time since her husband's death. As the back of my book says "first love and second chances."

Comments: This first book in a trilogy follows the little girl from the age of about six to fourteen. It takes place in a small Korean village in a time period unknown, with the only clue to placing it somewhere in the 20th century being a steam or coal engine train. Now, I'll start off by saying this is not the type of book I would normally read *at all*. I am much too conservative to even want to read a book that has the words "s*xual awakening" on the front flap but doing my job as a Cybils panelist I reluctantly set down to give the book a chance.

I can't quite know how to say just how beautiful a story this was. A little girl's curiosity about her body, the difference between boys and girls, grown-up things she over hears and how she goes straight to her mother with her questions and confusion is a tender love story in itself. The mother/daughter relationship presented here is truly touching and really the backbone of this volume. For those wanting a plot there really isn't any. We are touched by the maternal relationship and watch as each of them separately experiences womanhood. The little girl's experiences of finding our about her body, how it's different than a boys, her first period and her first crush on a boy, who is studying to be a monk, are all respectfully portrayed. The mother, who is young and beautiful, suddenly finds that love for a man can touch her heart again when she falls in love with a traveling artist who keeps returning to visit her. There are a couple of incidents in the book that I could have done without but for the most part the material is presented in a decent way, making for a truly touching story.

I also really enjoyed the artwork. The is the first time I've read Korean manga which is called manhwa. I'm not a huge fan of manga artwork as I hate the horrible fake over expressive faces and how all the men look like girls. But this book was not drawn that way at all, aside from the occasional great big mouth to show extreme emotions all the artwork is very realistic and the detailed background scenery in many frames is lovely. The men aslo look like men. I wonder if this is typical of Korean manhwa or just this particular artist's style.

I've fallen for Ewha, the little girl, and I'll be reading the next book for sure. Though I won't commit any further as I'll have to see if the story remains within my boundaries as she gets older. This book, The Color of Earth, is not going to be for everyone but if the topic interests you and you are comfortable with the subject matter then I hope you find the story as touching as I did. I'll end with a lovely little quote the girl says to herself near the end of the book:

Because I asked something I shouldn't have asked. I heard what I shouldn't have heard. And because I went where I shouldn't have gone, I saw what I shouldn't have seen. How will my young heart cope with all that I've heard and seen?


Nicola