A Bride’s Story 1
June 30, 2011
Kaoru Mori – Yen Press – 2011 – 3+ volumes
Alas, I passed on Emma when it was being published by CMX. I’ve heard much of Kaoru Mori from fans of Emma, and all that praise can sometimes be difficult to live up to. But I was shocked by Bride’s Story.
It is beautiful. If nothing else, I was completely blown away by the art. It’s a period story, set in the nineteenth century, about a family living in a small village in Central Asia (I picture the Himalayas, but there is probably a reason it’s left ambiguous). There are a lot of detailed landscapes, and Mori takes full advantage of the setting by having the characters travel, hunt dramatically, go on leisurely rides, et cetera. That alone would be worth comment, but it’s the clothing that really impresses me. The women in particular all wear layered clothing made of many different pieces, and all of it has intricate patterns. Mori draws these costumes in every panel. I cannot get over just how stunning this is. That alone is worth the price of admission for me.
But let me back up a bit. The characters wouldn’t be wearing those clothes if this wasn’t a story set in central Asia. It’s an unusual setting, and focusing on one of the very rural tribes and the way they live makes for very interesting subject matter. It’s not every day you run across a story like this, and I can’t think of a single other Japanese, American, or European comic that looks at this culture. Mori mentions she was interested in the topic of the silk road when she was younger, and that’s how she came to do so much research. Thank goodness for that.
So you’ve got a highly unusual setting and subject matter, drawn with amazing skill. What about the story itself? It is among the “slice of life” genre. So far, we are treated to small stories in the day-to-day life of Amir, the bride, and Karluk, her husband. The pair lives with Karluk’s family, which includes his grandparents, his parents, his older sister and her husband, and her sister’s four children. It’s a lively household, especially with the four children running around, and all the characters are touched on to some extent. The youngest child takes his time studying a woodcarver, and we learn about the decoration on the houses and how they are made (another opportunity for Mori’s art to shine). Karluk and Amir go out to visit Karluk’s uncle, a member of a nomadic tribe that is believed to be nearby. Amir gets the opportunity to show off her bowhunting skill, and the children beg her to teach them the same. We learn the joys of pomegranates, rabbit stew, sleeping in a yurt, and redecorating a room with elaborate wall hangings.
The subject matter was interesting enough that I tore through this book. I literally could not get enough. It was incredibly interesting stuff. Towards the end of the book, there is a peek at some drama that looks about to unfold, but as far as I’m concerned, it could continue to be about the day-to-day life of Karluk and his family for the next dozen volumes and I’d probably be spellbound.
The age difference between Karluk and Amir (he’s 12, she’s 20) seems to be causing problems for some people, but I feel it’s simply a part of the culture in this story. It’s not creepy or dwelled upon heavily, it is merely a fact of life, and Mori treats the topic with respect. Karluk and Amir are clearly affectionate towards one another, but they clearly aren’t involved in a romantic relationship. And that their marriage is merely part of their culture is explained several times. In fact, Amir is apparently too old to be a new bride, and a lot of people look down on her for it. As for Karluk’s young age, apparently the youngest son inherits the family traditions, and that’s why he was married early.
The only thing that bothered me is that we are not privy to what Amir is thinking. We aren’t offered insight into the character’s thoughts, so everything we know is based off how they interact with others. Amir is very active and outgoing, and doesn’t let the fact people are baffled by her strange customs (she’s from a different tribe) bother her. And yet… she often looks puzzled or expectant. She seems to dote on Karluk like an older sister, too. These are both things that I would love to know her thoughts on, and since she is so far removed from what I know, I find it difficult to get into her head.
But getting to know her will come with time. I will savor every volume of this, and I’m dying to read more. Beautiful art, beautiful story, and highly unusual subject matter and setting. Could I ask for any more?
This was a review copy provided by Yen Press.