Let me first say that, to those put off by my early use of the word “garbage” to describe charges of sexism against the book, I do think most of those evaluations aren’t appropriately treating (or able to see) the work as an old-fashioned, nostalgic historical, or confusing their story with the one the author wanted to tell, or reacting to what they’re reading into the story instead of what’s on the page. But I should have chosen a less inflammatory word — all I can plead is over-indulgence. We’d just come back from a lovely Italian lunch out, complete with gelato, so I was a bit punchy. (I don’t think those calling the series sexist without brooking any argument were appropriately considering the value of alternate opinions who disagreed with them, as they were asking me to do, but it’s my responsibility to set a better example.)
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve come to appreciate the value of patience, of sometimes waiting for things to progress and acting at the right time instead of always rushing at life and trying to shape things to your will. That’s not a male/female divide, but a youth/maturity one. And that’s one of the qualities I very much appreciate about the book. Others criticize it for telling women to wait and not act — but that ignores the many positive steps these women take, from Ehwa’s mother turning down a financially beneficial marriage for her child, to Ehwa learning to make choices for reasons other than romantic infatuation.
Others have criticized the series for viewing a time period where women had few choices in a positive, nostalgic light — but why not? Why must a book set in rural Korea at the turn of the 1900s be miserable? What’s wrong with focusing on the positive and writing a dual love story? That kind of criticism says more about the reader than the work, and that they should stay away from historical romances, especially those told poetically and flowerly. They also tend to ignore the bits that do show how difficult life then was — Ehwa’s mother having to take crude comments made to her face in order to keep her tavern business successful, for example. The books aren’t for everyone, it’s true, but criticizing them for not having the modern politics you wanted to read seems misguided.
Ed and I also talk about the unusual publisher for the series — First Second hasn’t done any other manga titles — and the many natural metaphors used in the book, as well as the virtues of symbolism over explicitness. (You may want your copies close at hand, since we do refer to some page numbers to indicate particular scenes.) I particularly praise the portrayal of the depth of the relationship between mother and daughter, a type of interaction still not much seen in comics. I appreciated how much that was valued, and how much both learned from each other.
Here’s another hilarious defense of the book as fitting in with a lot of other stories about teenage girls and what we expect of them sexually.