The Color of Earth

( 6 )

Overview

First love is never easy.

Ehwa grows up helping her widowed mother run the local tavern, watching as their customers – both neighbors and strangers – look down on her mother for her single lifestyle. Their social status isolates Ehwa and her mother from the rest of the people in their quiet country village. But as she gets older and sees her mother fall in love again, Ehwa slowly begins to open up to the possibility of love in her life.

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Overview

First love is never easy.

Ehwa grows up helping her widowed mother run the local tavern, watching as their customers – both neighbors and strangers – look down on her mother for her single lifestyle. Their social status isolates Ehwa and her mother from the rest of the people in their quiet country village. But as she gets older and sees her mother fall in love again, Ehwa slowly begins to open up to the possibility of love in her life.

In the tradition of My Antonia and A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, from the pen of the renowned Korean manwha creator Kim Dong Hwa, comes a trilogy about a girl coming of age, set in the vibrant, beautiful landscape of pastoral Korea.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Starred Review in 7/1 Booklist

The first in a trilogy, this beautifully scripted and drawn Korean manhwa provides a truly intimate but respectful journey in the company of a young girl and her widowed mother.  Spanning Ehwa's life from age seven to 16, each chapter shows the progress of her sexual awakening, much more as an emotional and social reality than a set of physical circumstances.  As Ehwa moves from the open curiosity of childhood that fixates on body parts to the mysteries of attraction and her own heartbreak, she and her mother navigate common issues that range from defending one's feelings from bullies (little boys in Ehwa's life; gossipy men in her mother's) to mutual attraction (a young monk and a visiting boy from a more monied class for Ehwa; an itinerant painter/scholar for her mother).  The mother and daughter share their stories with each other in a developmentally appropriate and credible fashion. The black-and-white art is presented in generous panels and several full-page spreads.  While there is some nudity appropriate to the narrative, both the natural and social worlds are depicted to call attention to facial expressions rather than body parts.  A variety of flowers adorns the pages, lending a palpable scent of perfume to this heady and gentle read.  This is an exquisite and feminist-positive story richly literate and imaginative.  Readers will eagerly await the subsequent volumes. – Francisca Goldsmith

Review in 4/20 PW

This manhwa—first in a trilogy—chronicling the lives of a single mother and her daughter in rural Korea is a moving and evocative look at love as seen through the eyes of one feeling it for the first time and another who longs to savor it once more. The story follows daughter Ehwa from age seven up as she discovers the physical differences between boys and girls, grows into young womanhood and undergoes her initial confusing experiences with attraction and romance. Ehwa’s interest is piqued by a young Buddhist monk, a lad whose interest is mutual but doomed to futility thanks to his faith’s strict code of celibacy. Meanwhile, Ehwa’s mother, who was widowed at an early age, finds her loneliness soothed by the attentions of an artistic traveling salesman known only as “Picture Man.” Their relationship later helps Ehwa understand much about the joys of making a romantic connection. This book has no conflict other than that common to youthful competition over boys, but it is a work of great humanity that sucks the reader in. Kim’s artwork is stunning, and seldom has a male writer captured the attitudes, emotions and behavior of female characters so believably. (Apr.)

Review in 3/15 Kirkus

Manga master Kim releases the first in a trilogy of graphic novels that trace the coming of age of a young girl in pastoral Korea. Ehwa lives with her mother, a widowed tavern keeper ostracized by fellow villagers for her independent lifestyle. But an unexpected visit from a traveling salesman ignites a flame of desire in her mother that lays the groundwork for Ehwa’s exploration of her own sexual awakening. Flower and water motifs course steadily through the author’s erotically tinted observations of daily life, but the breathtakingly elegant line drawings of Korean landscapes elevate the use of such standard metaphors for fertility and sexuality. Furthermore, the author is able to evoke nuances of emotion from stock-character forms in a genre not known for its subtlety. Despite his best intentions, however, yang clearly overpowers the mystique of the yin in this opener: Stereotypes—among those referenced here are that women talk a lot, are emotionally fragile and must rely on men for their sexual fulfillment—dot the otherwise unblemished landscapes that saturate this enchanting meditation on love and longing. (Graphic novel. 14 & up)

Recommended Review in 5/1 Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books

In this first manhwa (Korean graphic novel) of a trilogy (based on the author’s youth and set in rural Korea), Ehwa grows from a naïve six-year-old girl taunted by local boys for not having a penis to a lovely young teenager trying to decide which of two young men, a monk or the son of a local orchard farmer, she is drawn to more.  The most important relationship she has, however, is with her beautiful, young, widowed mother: as Ehwa grows and learns more about her developing body and her sexuality, her mother is there to correct misapprehensions and help her understand the complicated and sometimes contradictory emotions of becoming and being a woman.  She does this mostly by working through metaphors around their home; it helps that she too has a slowly blossoming relationship with a kind and artistic traveling sales man.  The lush drawings combine prettily stylized elements with richly realistic detail, and they turn even indelicate moments, such as a literal pissing contest between local boys, the monk’s first nocturnal emissions, and Ehwa’s shock at her menarche, into tenderly rendered, universal episodes of growing up.  Though the art is black and white, the textures inked in the fabrics and details of the landscapes suggest breathtaking beauty and rich color to complement the lyrical music of the text, which at times becomes poetic.  As one might expect from an artist who typically writes in the frothier genre of Korean sunjung, this is on the sweet side for a graphic novel, and yet it contains depths of sentiment that are personally revealing and affirming for young readers while they manage to confront issues of sexism and the difficulties as well as the joys of a woman rearing a daughter alone in a strongly patriarchal culture.  The themes of sexual awakening for Ehwa, and reawakening for her mother, are timeless, as is the intimacy of their relationship.  Notes from a Korean scholar follow and enrich the reading of the novel, commenting on multiple contexts for this original and appealing work. 

Review in 4/1 VOYA – 4Q 2P

A young Korean girl learns about longing and love in this lyrical manhwa (the Korean equivalent of Japanese manga).  Ehwa is only seven years old when she overhears some boys mocking her widowed mother and comparing her to a promiscuous beetle because she runs the local tavern.  In a scene that is funny, sad, and a little shocking, the boys proceed to have a peeing contest and then tease Ehwa because she does not have a “gochoo.”  Each chapter in the book chronicles another spring in Ehwa’s life up through her sixteenth year.  As she grows older, both Ehwa and her mother, Namwon, experience the ups and downs of love.  When Ehwa is nine, Namwon starts an affair with a traveling pictograph artist.  Ehwa, meanwhile, falls in love with both a young monk and the orchard farmer’s son.  Sexuality and puberty, such as the young monk’s first wet dream, are frankly depicted.  The book is also highly romantic, and relishes in poetic comparisons of women to rain and flowers. 

This title is an English translation of the first part of a manhwa trilogy originally published in Korea in 2003.  The expressive artwork captures both the beauty of the Korean countryside and the inner life of Ehwa and Namwon.  It is a quiet, dreamy book that focuses on characters rather than plot.  It should appeal to mature girls ready for a thoughtful coming-of-age story, as well as manga fans looking to try something new.  – Amy Luedtke

Review in 9/1 SLJ

Gr 10 Up–A coming-of-age story set in rural Korea a few generations ago. Ehwa is a beautiful young woman who, over a series of vignettes, learns about her body and how men and women make babies. She suffers the pain of her first unrequited love for the boy monk Chung-Myung (who also suffers from his own forbidden love for her). She also finds herself attracted to Sunoo, a rich son of an orchard owner who studies in the city. While Ehwa discovers her own desires, her widowed mother finds love again with a traveling picture salesman. The story revolves around the close relationship the women share as Ehwa becomes her mother’s main ally and confidante. The illustrator uses flowers in many of the vignettes to explain aspects of love or to represent his characters and their relationships. While the book begins when Ehwa is seven and only takes her into her early teen years, the nostalgic tone and slow pacing make the title more likely to appeal to older readers. The artwork is beautiful, particularly in Hwa’s depiction of the landscape and the two main characters. A good additional purchase for libraries looking for less action-oriented manga/manhwa titles.–Alana Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT

Review in April Shojo Beat Magazine

Creator Kim Dong Hwa is a master of shojo manga in Korea (where it’s called sunjung manhwa).  Hoping to reach beyond his established teenage girl audience, Hwa has produced a sweeping trilogy of books about two generations of women.  In the first book, Ehwa is a young girl who is slowly discovering her sexuality.  Her mother, a widow and restaurateur, is also grappling with her own struggle being a single mother.  Hwa compares and contrasts the dynamic between mother and daughter to great effect, and he portrays his two protagonists with all the dignity and chaos they deserve.  A lyrical poem, a tale of sexual awakening, and an homage to generations of Korean women, The Color of Earth gives us an intimate glimpse of adulthood seen through the experiences shared by a mother and her child.  Book two comes in June, and the final book will be in stores in September.  – Eric Searleman

Publishers Weekly

This manhwa-first in a trilogy-chronicling the lives of a single mother and her daughter in rural Korea is a moving and evocative look at love as seen through the eyes of one feeling it for the first time and another who longs to savor it once more. The story follows daughter Ehwa from age seven up as she discovers the physical differences between boys and girls, grows into young womanhood and undergoes her initial confusing experiences with attraction and romance. Ehwa's interest is piqued by a young Buddhist monk, a lad whose interest is mutual but doomed to futility thanks to his faith's strict code of celibacy. Meanwhile, Ehwa's mother, who was widowed at an early age, finds her loneliness soothed by the attentions of an artistic traveling salesman known only as "Picture Man." Their relationship later helps Ehwa understand much about the joys of making a romantic connection. This book has no conflict other than that common to youthful competition over boys, but it is a work of great humanity that sucks the reader in. Kim's artwork is stunning, and seldom has a male writer captured the attitudes, emotions and behavior of female characters so believably. (Apr.)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Children's Literature - Michael Jung
Korean writer/artist Kim Dong Hwa weaves a poetic tale of sexual awakening in this Korean graphic novel (or manhwa) which forms the first episode in his The Story of Life on the Golden Fields trilogy. Here, readers meet nine-year-old Ehwa, an innocent girl just beginning to become aware of her own sexuality. As Ehwa grows, she receives sex instruction from both good and bad instructors, including her widowed mother, who likens sexual maturity to seeds and flowers as well as lecherous neighborhood boys who consider Ehwa a freak for her lack of a penis. Still not all the men in Ehwa's life are ignorant boors, as she also meets a good-natured artist who reawakens old desires in her mother and a young monk who develops feelings for Ehwa. Beautifully illustrated, the book's black-and-white manhwa art ranges from cartoonishly silly when depicting the drunks in Ehwa's mother's tavern to photo-realistic when illustrating trees, flowers, and animals. Readers will also appreciate that the translation includes footnotes that explain the more obscure figures of speech and references used by the characters. It should be noted, however, that the book's themes and artwork are intended for a mature audience and do not shy away from depicting adult material like nudity, female periods, or wet dreams. At the same time, many readers will be pleased to find that Hwa has managed to craft a sensitive story of sexuality that does not resort to gratuitous sex scenes. Reviewer: Michael Jung
Library Journal
Highly regarded in Korea, where his "Color" trilogy was first serialized in 1992, Kim has cross-cultural appeal. In this lyrical coming-of-age manhwa set a century ago in rural Korea, young Ehwa grows up under the fond eye of her widowed tavern-keeper mother. The increasingly pretty girl attracts the randy village boys, but she is drawn to less attainable and more sensitive lads: a local apprentice monk, a farmer's son schooled elsewhere, and a handsome worker from a different village. Intercut with Ehwa's tentative steps toward love is her mother's intermittent and achingly sweet liaison with a traveling painter, helping to deepen their complex mother-daughter relationship. Although the art, plot, and dialog have poetic beauty and charm, Kim still incorporates earthy and disturbing elements: male customers verbally harass Ehwa's mother, while Ehwa shows her distaste for her girlfriend's sexual explorations. VERDICT Kim's elegant trilogy will have strong appeal for its literary quality and offers key historical and cultural information, with a reading group guide included in the last two volumes. Sexual content and nudity, presented discreetly. For older teens and up.—M.C.
School Library Journal
Gr 10 Up–A coming-of-age story set in rural Korea a few generations ago. Ehwa is a beautiful young woman who, over a series of vignettes, learns about her body and how men and women make babies. She suffers the pain of her first unrequited love for the boy monk Chung-Myung (who also suffers from his own forbidden love for her). She also finds herself attracted to Sunoo, a rich son of an orchard owner who studies in the city. While Ehwa discovers her own desires, her widowed mother finds love again with a traveling picture salesman. The story revolves around the close relationship the women share as Ehwa becomes her mother’s main ally and confidante. The illustrator uses flowers in many of the vignettes to explain aspects of love or to represent his characters and their relationships. While the book begins when Ehwa is seven and only takes her into her early teen years, the nostalgic tone and slow pacing make the title more likely to appeal to older readers. The artwork is beautiful, particularly in Hwa’s depiction of the landscape and the two main characters. A good additional purchase for libraries looking for less action-oriented manga/manhwa titles.–Alana Abbott, James Blackstone Memorial Library, Branford, CT
Kirkus Reviews
Manga master Kim releases the first in a trilogy of graphic novels that trace the coming of age of a young girl in pastoral Korea. Ehwa lives with her mother, a widowed tavern keeper ostracized by fellow villagers for her independent lifestyle. But an unexpected visit from a traveling salesman ignites a flame of desire in her mother that lays the groundwork for Ehwa's exploration of her own sexual awakening. Flower and water motifs course steadily through the author's erotically tinted observations of daily life, but the breathtakingly elegant line drawings of Korean landscapes elevate the use of such standard metaphors for fertility and sexuality. Furthermore, the author is able to evoke nuances of emotion from stock-character forms in a genre not known for its subtlety. Despite his best intentions, however, yang clearly overpowers the mystique of the yin in this opener: Stereotypes-among those referenced here are that women talk a lot, are emotionally fragile and must rely on men for their sexual fulfillment-dot the otherwise unblemished landscapes that saturate this enchanting meditation on love and longing. (Graphic novel. 14 & up)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781596434585
  • Publisher: First Second
  • Publication date: 3/31/2009
  • Series: Color of Earth Series , #1
  • Pages: 320
  • Sales rank: 585,956
  • Lexile: GN600L (what's this?)
  • Product dimensions: 6.10 (w) x 8.40 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Kim Dong Hwa is the author of many graphic novels – or manwha, as they are called in Korea, where he lives. His books include the popular work My Sky and the literary piece The Red Bicycle .

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4.5
( 6 )
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Sort by: Showing all of 6 Customer Reviews
  • Posted August 13, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Courtesy of Mother Daughter Book Club.com

    The Color of Earth is the first in a trilogy of graphic novels about a young girl named Ehwa and her widowed mother who owns a tavern in a small Korean village. The story takes place in a time before that country was geographically split by war.

    Author Kim Dong Hwa creates beautiful images that work with the narrative to tell this story of two generations of women. While the story may seem simple as it follows Ehwa from young girl to young adult, it is filled with rich symbolism that you will want to savor as you read. Flowers symbolize many things in the story, and the characters are often associating flowers with someone they love. Also, you get the sense that young Ehwa is beginning to bloom just as the flowers do.

    As Ehwa grows, she is confused by the changes in her body, and the information she gets from friends about those changes only confuses her more. Mother and daughter don't talk about the changes before they occur, but Ehwa does turn to her mother to answer the questions she has. The narrative provides an interesting way to bring up topics like boys having wet dreams and girls starting their periods. The words are simple, but combined with the images they are powerful. While this book is targeted to a young adult audience and these concepts won't be new to most readers, it can be a jumping off point for further discussion.

    I recommend The Color of Earth for mother-daughter book clubs with girls who are 13 or older. In addition to talking about maturing bodies, other points to discuss include first love, Buddhist monks, and life in a small village.

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  • Posted April 7, 2009

    more from this reviewer

    Well-grounded and down to earth

    The artwork is amazing! The detail just blows my mind away - the patterns on clothing, the blossoms and leaves on the trees, the gorgeous landscapes - let's just say that I would kill to have such talent and vision!

    And who can resist a story about young love in all its innocent glory? Ehwa experiences her first crush with a young monk and, when she is rebuffed (for monks should not reciprocate such feelings, though he definitely felt attracted to her), then her second and more secret crush with a young scholar from a wealthy family. I could appreciate Ehwa's sense of confusion, longing, and shyness about her feelings towards these two boys.

    There is also a side story about long-distance love between her mother and a traveling artist that I also appreciated, although I do not think this relationship was fully developed. It almost seemed like her mother's infatuation with the artist grew overnight for no clear reason, and when he comes back into town, I am not too clear on the depth of their relationship beyond the physical.

    The Color Of Earth makes a wonderful coming-of-age story that illustrates a wonderful relationship between a mother and daughter. It may not be 100% perfect where Ehwa will share her secret crushes with her mother, but Ehwa cares deeply for her mother and takes great offense when she overhears the other villagers gossip behind her mother's back. I am definitely anxious for June when The Color Of Water comes out to see how Ehwa and her mother grow closer together and with their significant others.

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