Thursday, January 13, 2011

The Color Trilogy - Kim Dong Hwa



On my never-ending quest for all things graphic (my new form of crack), I was at the library recently and spotted this trilogy. I first read about it over at Gavin's place at Page 247, and I've never forgotten the arresting visuals. I sat down and knocked them all out in a matter of days. (Side note: This is one of many reasons why graphic novels are so incredible, and why you really need to get on this bandwagon. They pack a huge punch emotionally, because they are so visual and often well-written at the same time. And you can normally read them in one or two sittings.)

Synopsis: In Korea, Kim Dong Hwa is highly revered as the standard in graphic novels, called "manhwa". The Color Trilogy is his first work translated and sold in the US, and tells a story of a young girl's coming-of-age in nineteenth century Korea, and her relationship with her widowed mother.

In The Color of Earth, we first meet Ehwa, who lives with her mother in a small village. Her mother runs the local tavern, and is a beautiful but lonely woman. Ehwa has just started feeling stirrings of adolescence, and harbors her first crush on a young monk boy. At the same time, her mother meets a mysterious and handsome traveling artist, and Ehwa observes her mother in love, an emotion in which she is has a sudden interest. The onset of puberty is explored as we see the young monk experience his first wet dream and Ehwa's first period. The novel ends when a new love interest of Ehwa's, a enigmatic student, leaves the village to return to school, and she is crushed.


In The Color of Water, Ehwa becomes a somewhat difficult teenager, and is often moody. She longs to have the attention of a young man, and spends her energy on wondering who she will marry. She becomes agitated (and jealous?) at her mother's obsession with the continuing visits from the traveling artist. Ehwa learns about the birds and the bees from a precocious and promiscuous childhood girlfriend. She finally meets the man of her dreams in Duksam, who must leave at the end of the book to earn money so they can be married.




In The Color of Heaven, most of the plot is spent focused on Ehwa and her mother's constant longing and waiting for the men in their lives to come back to them. They find common ground in their angst, and begin to relate to each other as equals. The men eventually do return, and Ehwa is married.

Not only does this trilogy address all of the confusion and excitement of the transition from child to adult, it also gently reveals many different Korean customs, as well as local foods, roles in the family unit, attitudes towards single women, arranged marriages, sexual taboos and social order. Hwa also incorporates a great deal of symbolism and metaphors with a multitude of text and images dedicated to the blossoming of flowers, ripening fruit, and butterflies.

My thoughts: The Color Trilogy is unlike any of the graphic novels I've read before. It is seeped in Korean culture and beautiful images of the countryside.



The book is also very straightforward in its depiction of sexual awakening. It is a little disarming because there are pictures, but also refreshing in its honestly. For this reason, this could be an excellent book to give to a teenager (I think at 12, my daughter might be still too young) - just make sure you read it first so you can use it as an opportunity to discuss.

The artwork was absolutely gorgeous. It seemed, in some of the frames, that actual photographs had been merged with illustration (not sure if it actually was or not), and the result was breathtaking.

I felt like I was getting a mini-tutorial on traditional Korean culture, of which I was completely uneducated. Hwa even added footnotes to some of the dialogue, with explanations of some of the customs.

On the downside, I did grow extremely weary of reading about flowers and butterflies. I completely understood the point, but it was heavy-handed. And I also have to mention one particular sex scene near the end of the last book, taking place between two older townspeople at the same time that Ehwa consummates her marriage, that left me turned off. I didn't think it was necessary, and did not add to the beauty of the story.

Overall, a wonderful graphic novel experience that I would highly recommend.

4 out of 5 stars


18 comments:

Jenny said...

Great review! I have the first one of these on my TBR to read. It'll be interesting to me to see what it says about Korean culture... that's a big source of contention b/w me and my mom (she's Korean, I'm half that and half caucasian). The whole sexual awakening thing might be weird for me though. To me Korean culture is much to conservative for any sexual anything, lol..

Nicole (Linus's Blanket) said...

You had me adding it to my wishlist but the heavy handedness sort of stopped me. I would like to learn more about Korean culture, so I might just plunge ahead anyway. Odd about the dual love scene. Definitely an interesting choice.

rhapsodyinbooks said...

I've been wanting to read these since Alyce reviewed them. Our library is just discovering graphic novels however!

Zibilee said...

This sounds like an amazing set of books, and those illustrations are just beautiful. I also appreciate that it is a very frank look at adolescence, sex, and maturation. I really, really want to read these now and am going to be adding them to my list. Fantastic review, Sandy! Your enthusiasm shows, and it made me excited as well!

Jeane said...

The pictures look so beautiful. I have been interested in reading more and more graphic works, and I'm definitely adding these to my list now!

bermudaonion said...

I've never heard of this series, but boy does it sound good, flowers and butterflies included. I could do without the sex scene you mentioned, though.

Julie P. said...

The illustrations look incredibly beautiful for graphic novels. Maybe I should start reading more of these books.

heidenkind said...

Sounds like it could be really good!

Melody said...

Sounds good! I've gotta check those out!

Cozy in Texas said...

I love the review.
Competition today on my blog if you're interested.
Ann

Jenners said...

Wonderful balanced review ... I feel like I know what to expect.

Melissa M said...

I'm still not sold on the graphic novel, but this sounds intesting with the Korean culture.

Iliana said...

I hadn't heard of this series before but it's definitely one I need to put on my radar. Last year I didn't get to read that many graphic novels but I really do enjoy them. I love the different art and of course the stories explored. Great review, Sandy!

Bybee said...

I've hesitated about reading these several times, but onto the wishlist they go! Glad they're getting an international audience.

Beth F said...

Un oh. I swore I wasn't going to buy any more books for a while because I really have too many unread tomes around here. Sigh. Thanks. I think.

Nymeth said...

Gavin also made me want to read this - and now you! The art looks gorgeous indeed.

Kathleen said...

Now that I've started reading graphic novels, I'm always looking for a good recommendation. I'm interested in this one. I like that it is a series so I can follow the characters and story for awhile. The ONE thing I don't like about graphic novels is that they end too soon!

Alice Teh said...

One thing I love is Asian art. I have a thing for Chinese art and calligraphy, and this Korean one blew me away. And yes, there will always be lots of birds, flowers, etc etc in our culture... I will try to look for the trilogy.