Sunday, March 11, 2018

Book-A-Day #70: The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven by Kim Dong Hwa

Once again I see that I read the first book of a trilogy nearly a decade ago (The Color of Earth, in 2009), carefully shelved the following two books, and left them there for "someday."

Well, "left them there" is understating it: I had to move these books around repeatedly, looking at them over and over again, and somehow (I'm not sure how) saving them from my 2011 flood that destroyed so many other things I thought I wanted to read more quickly.

But every one of us has a million things we didn't do, and far fewer that we actually did do. As we get older, focusing on the first makes less and less sense -- those things are almost infinite.

So I finally did read The Color of Water and The Color of Heaven, the bulk of a trilogy by Korean manwha creator Kim Dong Hwa, retelling the story of his mother's adolescence, nearly a century ago in sleepy rural Korea. (Dong Hwa's note, I realize only now, does not say this is his parents' story, so I wonder about the strapping young man who is the hero of these books, and how he relates, if at all, to the author's actual father.)

Ehwa is sixteen, or so the flap copy tells us -- the books themselves never mention her age. There's a lot they don't mention, though: this trilogy is set in a small village somewhere in Korea, and if we weren't told it was the twentieth century, there's nothing here to clue us into that. Life goes on here as it always has, in a quiet, pastoral way.

In the first book, Ehwa had crushes on two local young men -- first the monk Chung-Myung, and then the orchard farmer's son Sunoo. But this is a romantic story -- Dong Hwa spent most of his career making romantic stories for young women -- so we know it will end with a true love, even if there are a lot of tears and long speeches about emotions before then.

And there are plenty of speeches about emotions: from Ehwa; from her mother, a widowed tavern-keeper; from the men they both love; and from nearly everyone else in this small Korean town, who are all obsessed with talking about women as flowers and men as butterflies and other unsubtle metaphors. Each page is pleasant, and the dialogue is true, but a reader may begin to wonder if rural Koreans ever think of anything else, or if that's why they are still so rural and backward in 1920ish.

I'm picking on these books, which are sweet and lovely -- Dong Hwa is good at drawing expressions, and at showing character in his faces. And the dialogue, as I said, is true -- it's only that there's so very very much of it in the six-hundred-plus pages of these books.

I suspect the natural audience for this trilogy is both substantially younger and substantially more female than I am, so my reaction doesn't mean much. My sense is that these books are exceptionally good for their kind, and I did enjoy reading them. It's only that sweet romances tend to bring out the Marvin the Paranoid Android in me....

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