Sunday, August 2, 2015

Manga Review: A Bride's Story

A Bride's Story is one of those series I learned about while browsing Goodreads (it's an amazing site, I tell ya!). This manga is still ongoing, but 6 volumes have been released so far in the United States. I actually hesitate to call it "A Bride's Story" even though that is the official English translation. A closer translation would be: Bride's Stories because we don't actually focus on only own individual throughout the series. However, the main focus is on one particular couple.

A Bride's Story starts out relaying the daily life experiences of Amir and Karluk, a newly wedded couple that live in a Turkic town in Central Asia, near the Caspian Sea. The time period is the late 19th century and Amir has just been "given" as a bride to the Eihon family who live in a rural town. Amir is from the Halgal clan, who are a semi-nomadic tribe. Amir and Karluk are unique in that Amir is much older than Karluk; at the time of their marriage, Amir is 20, while Karluk is 12. By the 6th volume, it's mentioned that Karluk will be 13 soon. The manga follows many of their daily interactions, from Amir learning what it's like to bake bread in the town amongst all the other women to Karluk acting as a guide for Mr. Smith, an English researcher who has been living with the Eihon family for some time. The addition of Mr. Smith was a very smart move by the author as there are various aspects of daily life that need more detailed explaining to be understood. Having Mr. Smith there, asking questions as to why the family does things a certain way helps the reader learn a lot about the culture of the clans. It never seems forced or awkward, it's really just a researcher asking simple questions that (mostly) Karluk and Amir try to explain. At some point, the storyline leaves Amir and Karluk and we follow Mr. Smith for a while as he travels away from the family. While following his travels we meet three other young brides: Talas, a young woman who has been married no less than 5 times but each one of her husbands has passed, and Laila and Leyli, two twins who are constantly worried about whether or not their father is looking for a good husband for them. While at first I was jaded because I wanted to know more about Amir and Karluk, it was nice to explore the stories of other brides and see how their experiences differed to that of Amir and Karluk.

Eventually, the manga circles back to Amir and Karluk. Their marriage is actually facing some trouble since it seems that Amir's family wants her back in order to give her as a bride to the Numaji tribe. This would be a marriage of convenience of course, since the Numaji tribe are extremely powerful and own many lands which the Halgal (Amir's clan) need in order to feed their horses. Of course Karluk's family will not let go of her so easily and Amir herself does not want to go. One of the conversations that really stands out in my mind is when Amir asks her brother Azel (who has been charged with bringing her back) why they can't send any of the other girls of marrying age. She
Azel's intense gazes. I confused him for a girl at first!
names two different girls and Azel replies bluntly, "They're dead. We sent them, but they died." Amir is left in total shock and it was not until later that I realized those two women were Amir's younger sisters. Later on, Azel is forced to return because their father (who just happens to be the clan leader) won't let Amir go and wants her back, claiming that her marriage into the Numaji would be for the good of the clan. It's clear from the beginning that Azel does not truly want to take Amir back to the Halgal by force and his worry is further solidified when one of their cousins tells Amir that, "You're brother would be devastated if anything happened to you."  I felt like if it weren't for the circumstances under which his two sisters died (it's mentioned at one point that one of them was beaten so severely that the majority of the bones in her body were broken), Azel would not have been so fiercely protective of Amir. So, clearly, I grew to really like Azel. He was the older brother that any girl would want. He gives Amir space, and tries not to pressure her, but when it's time for him to protect her, he is there.

There are certain parts of the manga that can seem dull to readers because it feels like "nothing is happening" but I quickly realized that Bride's Stories is really more of a slice of life manga. It doesn't really have one overall plot (although the issues between Amir and her family are generally treated as the main plot). The whole point of the manga is to show what life was like for young wives living during this time. A lot of research went into this manga which can be gleaned from the little bits of
Amir and Karluk in their home.
cultural trivia that are sprinkled throughout as well as the constant talk about the Russian threat. I learned so much about the clans in each volume (for example, many clans use hawks to hunt although generally it's a male-exclusive practice) and at the same time, I was treated to breathtaking artwork. Oh my goodness, the artwork! It's so intricate and detailed! And the main reason this is so is because embroidery was a huge part of the daily lives of these characters. Clothes had to be embroidered with charms for health and good luck and the embroidery skill of a young girl was honed starting from when she was a young child. The idea is that by the time a girl marries, she will be able to decorate her entire home with cloth she herself embroidered. This means of course, that almost everyone wears clothing with intricate designs and the interiors of their homes are decorated in the same manner as well. One can only imagine how long it must have taken the author to ink all of her work. It's truly amazing!

Amir and Pariya washing clothes. 
Overall, I really like this series thus far. I am sure that I will continue to read it, but the volumes do take a while to be published largely because the series is being written and drawn at a slower pace when compared to other manga. But of course, I do not mind at all! I really appreciate all of the research that goes into each volume and the detailed artwork. It really breathes life into the story and I would prefer such a story as opposed to another story that is filled with battles between the "good" guys and "bad" guys. I also really appreciated the fact that Amir is never shown as a weak character. There are clear differences set between the genders, but Amir can hunt and is an extremely good shot. Basically, she's amazing. However, she is quite demure. Possibly in order to show us that not all brides are like this, Pariya is introduced. Pariya is robust and loud and due to this, her father has trouble finding a husband for her, but while Pariya worries, she doesn't necessarily conform either. At the same time, the grooms that are introduced are each very different and unique in his own way. While the main focus is on the bride's, we learn a lot about the expectations the grooms have to meet as well and their daily lives too. I would completely recommend this manga to someone hoping to read something more laid-back and yet at the same time, a manga that explores both gender roles and shows that within a culture divided by gender, one gender is not necessarily better than the other. They are on equal terms and must work together to make a marriage work.

One last picture so you can see more of the beautiful intricate artwork! 

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