I finally got my little hands on a copy of The Color Trilogy by Kim Dong Hwa, and I was not disappointed. It wasn’t everything I was hoping it would be (what is?), but it was still a gently paced story about a young girl and her mother, who love each other very much. Using extensive imagery and language of flowers and butterflies, this volume follows a seven-year-old Ehwa till about her mid-teens, just when she has experienced her first brush with heartache.
We meet young Ehwa as she overhears some nasty town gossip about her mother, a widowed tavern lady who makes a living serving food and drinks to rowdy customers. This really sets the stage for the rest of the book – Ehwa’s gradual awareness of her sexuality mostly through overheard snatches of talk between grown-ups, the simultaneous casual cruelty and kindness of a small town, and the strong bond between Ehwa and her mother. I’m not sure how realistically the mother’s love life is depicted with the Picture Man, but at least she gets someone, right? But to tell the truth, I had a little trouble with him, especially with the way he entered their lives. With the way he approached them, my first though wouldn’t be, Ooh, potential love interest, but, Ruh-roh, potential serial killer. But those were simpler times.
Though a lot of attention is paid to the mother, I gravitated more towards Ehwa’s own story. While her mother seems pretty set with the Picture Man, Ehwa met two potential butterflies in this volume, Chung Myung the young monk in training and the student Young Master Sunoo (what a popular name that is!), the son of the wealthy orchard owner. Their meet-cutes were tolerably cute, though I would give Young Master the edge since his had a supernatural element to it. The monk’s story was inevitably bittersweet, though I wish Kim Dong Hwa had made the ending result from the monk’s inner spiritual turmoil rather than from a woman’s fickleness. But what can you do.
At first I was a little on the fence about the crazy use of flowers to discuss females and love (women are flowers – I get it), but I did like how Ehwa associated each boy she liked with a different flower, almost like a nickname (it kind of reminded me of The Tale of Genji, where Genji’s many lovers were sometimes identified by a flower). And in this book I got to learn not just about matters of the heart, but about botany too. I didn’t know that tiger lilies were common on mountains – they always seemed so exotic to me. But since I got all of my tiger lily information from Peter Pan, I shouldn’t be too surprised.
I might not have liked this story as much as the works of Kaoru Mori (I admit that I’m being totally biased here), but this was still a good read and I eagerly moved on to the next two books in the series. I wasn’t even that bothered by the fact that a guy was writing about all of these intimate female concerns. For one thing, the story is told a lot more broadly and in more general terms (Ehwa is really a stand-in for every girl her age). And also, men have always been writing about women, so it’s no big deal at this point. I’m not a bigot.
For something referring to earth, rain played a much larger role in this book. I know that the PD of Winter Sonata has said that rain brings love (did not know that), so I wonder if he was influenced by this work, and soonjung (the Korean version of shojo) in general. In a shallow way you could look at this series as a kind of late Joseon Gilmore Girls, but that really wouldn’t be doing this trilogy justice. This was a fun, easy read about a young girl’s coming-of-age at a time when kids both appeared to grow up a lot faster than they do now (such as thinking of marriage at an earlier age), and also seemed to stay innocent for a longer time. Now that Ehwa has started to think about boys, who will appear in the next volume of the series?