I’ve mentioned a couple of times the Color Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa and usually along with a mention of how much I was enjoying it. Unfortunately, since I’ve finished the third one in the series I’ve become completely disillusioned with the coming of age story about a young girl, Ehwa, a hundred years ago or so. What’s interesting is that I only started feeling this way after I found out that the author is a man.
Forgive me for my uncertainty – Kim is a name that, at least in the US, can be female or male, and the author photograph is a little ambiguous. So while there were some things about the manwha (Korean comic) that bothered me, the fact that they were coming from the perspective of a woman and it took place in a time where focusing on your marriage prospects was really what you had to look forward to, let me give The Color of Earth a favorable review. I still don’t necessarily fault the trilogy for the focus on marriage – that probably was the focus of young girls during this time period. However, now that I know the author is a man, I’m much more uncertain about the way he portrayed the female characters in the Color Trilogy and disagree completely that he writes beautifully from the perspective of a woman.
Eventually, the little things that bothered me in the first book got worse and worse. What seemed charming in The Color of Earth, like the overly poetic language, seemed overdone and unrealistic. But most of all, there were parts that were downright offensive, that no amount of historical setting could correct. If I sat down with Kim Dong Hwa and told him my concerns, if he defended himself with the setting and difference in time period and culture, I would remind him that even if your setting isn’t modern, your readers are. There are certain things that are inappropriate, and honestly were probably inappropriate by any standard, not just modern ones. Also, there should be consistency. I don’t understand how Ehwa and her mother could be so forward thinking in many ways and yet so backwards in others. Ehwa seems to understand sex and certainly how her body works, but then is mysteriously naive at other times.
Was this comic realistic? No, I don’t think so. It seemed like the author was confused about whether he wanted to be faithful to the time period or if he wanted the setting simply for aesthetic purposes. And let’s take a break to talk about aesthetics: the Color Trilogy is beautiful and well drawn.
What really intrigues me about this whole experience is the fact that I wasn’t upset by these aspects when I thought they came from a woman. Why? Should I have been? Was there less offensive language and situations in The Color of Earth, so maybe I only noticed it more after I realized the gender of the author? If the author was a woman, would that make any of what was so disappointing about the Color Trilogy less disappointing? I don’t know. It’s impossible to say, but I know that I won’t be recommending these books anymore. There’s just a lot here that I wouldn’t want younger girls reading. I know that there are a lot of people out there who enjoyed these books, so give them a try and form your own opinion, but I’m going to be returning these to the library without looking back.