Manhwa-ga: Kim Dong Hwa
Publisher: First Second
Rating: Older Teen (16+)
Release Date: June 2009
Synopsis: “When Ehwa goes to the town festival, she meets a handsome young wrestler named Duksam who’s eager to catch her eye. After he wins the festival wrestling championship, he and Ehwa begin to meet, sneaking spare moments to be together. But a shadow falls on their romance when Master Cho sends Duksam away and asks for Ehwa’s hand in marriage himself It is then that Ehwa discovers the pain of heartbreak – and that love is always complicated. 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.”
Following The Color of Earth, The Color of Water resumes the story of Ehwa: a young girl coming of age in years-ago Korea, as she lives with her widowed Mother. The bulk of the story is now, more than ever, the search for a husband to fulfill them, and with the notion being all the more focused here in the second installment, it’s beginning to feel more sexist than it is sweet.
The most notable shift in focus of this book is its sexuality. While it had a role to play in the first, here Ehwa is learning more about her growing body and those of men. While many things remain spoken about abstractly, with references made to nature in place of speaking about anything directly, there’re still some distinct moments, such as Ehwa’s best friend teaching her self-pleasure, Ehwa’s Mother sleeping with her lover, and more things along the same lines.
I also find the constant comparison of women to flowers becoming overdone by this point as the generalizations they create begin to feel borderline offensive. Ehwa and her Mother also remain entirely focused on the goals of marriage, men and sex which leaves them feeling shallow as characters. Though aware these sensibilities are pretty in-tune with the time period in which the story takes place, they still feel too restrictive and one-sided to feel relevant to readers today.
Though for its flaws, much of what I liked about the first book is maintained here, in particular the whimsical feeling created by the frequent use of analogies that gives everything a masking layer of innocence. At the very least it continues to make for a relaxing read.
The plot remains very linear with few moments feeling any more or less potent than others. A change in this level pacing does however come midway through the book, when the young Ehwa catches the eye of an old man who now desperately wishes to have her for himself, to the disgust of her Mother. It’s the most drama the series has had yet and admittedly I thought it was a well-needed, and certainly not entirely out of place, turn of events. It gave the book a well needed boot to keep my interest long enough to read the whole thing in one sitting, something I wasn’t able to do with The Color of Earth.
As with the first book, the publisher after words are detailed, taking an academic approach to the work in breaking down its themes, intent and praise for the book’s accomplishing factors. It proves a pretty interesting read when you’ve finished the book. I also enjoyed the way First Second handled the cover design, simple but elegant.
Those who enjoyed The Color of Earth should certainly pick up its sequel to continue following Ehwa’s life, and despite its growing flaws, I still liked reading on here in The Color of Water. My fear remains now though that in my interest to see this story through to the end (there’s one more book after this), I’ll be confronted with the seemingly inevitable ending of marriage being the do-all-end-all of Ehwa’s life, and with that notion already so hard to swallow here, I’ll need to prepare myself for some suspended belief to continue enjoying the book’s charms.