A Bride’s Story, Vol 1: Living Takes Time

Woo!

& thus I unexpectedly embarked upon a multi-post journey through the volumes of Kaoru Mori’s A Bride’s Story.  If you are unfamiliar with the overall gist, here it is: 19th century clan in central Asia sends girl (Amir) to wed boy (Karluk) from another clan in another town.  Amir is eight years Karluk’s senior, which they both discover the day of their wedding.  Life ensues.

I am so happy that I picked this up.  I looked at the cover (“Hey, cool! Wonder if I could make that dress…”), read the description (“Oooo, struggles with identity!”), & then proceeded to lose myself in the awesomeness (YURTS!)

So, let’s take a look at our primary character of the manga, Amir, & her relationship to her new husband & family.

Patterns, patterns everywhere…

Amir is our twenty-year-old bride.  Her upbringing & ways from the Halgal family are similar yet not quite in sync with the Eihon family, the family she has married into.  This is evident in her continuing to wear her own traditional clothes–clothes that mark her out as different from both her new family as well as for the reader–in addition to her actions.  For one, the patterns of her fabric are dissimilar to those around her.  The lines & geometry don’t quite match up to the patterns around her, & as far as I can tell, she is the only adult female in this town who has some of her hair visible.  She has a bow that came as part of her dowry, & she is fully trained & capable of using it.  Overall, she’s pretty awesome.  Some of her actions are seen as “scandalous” by others, but really, while her new family comments on & informs her of their own ways, they never seem purposefully to give her a sense of wrongness, nor do they belittle her for her differences.

Of all the things she could possibly change, though, the one thing her new family picks up on is the one thing that no one can change:  how old she is in comparison to her new husband, Karluk.  & while to people in their culture & livelihood, age is very much an indication of how many children a woman can bear, there is also sense of whether or not Karluk is capable of producing children yet.  At twelve years of age, it is Karluk who seems too young for marriage.  We could even question whether or not he has begun puberty (we can probably assume he has at least begun the transition to adulthood, but we aren’t entirely sure).  Amir slowly tries to introduce him to the world of sex, naked intimacy, & the comforts it can bring, a world that she seems to clearly want, expect, & be comfortable with, but Karluk is the one who appears to be not quite ready, either physically or emotionally.  This seems to be something the family didn’t quite anticipate.

But mostly, for the first volume, I want to focus on time.

In the span of the first volume, a couple months seem to pass.  But we don’t get any of that from the dialogue; it comes from the characters’ work & the art itself.  Since this is set in the 19th century, we can expect that the business of living took up most of a person’s time.  We see the Eihon family, their relatives, other townspeople tending & herding animals (SQUEE LAMBS), spinning fiber, making fabric, making clothes, leather-working, hunting, preparing food, carving wood…the list goes on.  Mori doesn’t always draw attention to how long all of these things take; early in the manga, Amir makes Karluk a long vest out of rabbit fur & the cloth Karluk’s mother had given to her as a wedding gift.  We see only a few panels of Amir working on the garment late at night, as she wants it to be a surprise–dreamy, slightly erotic, elfin images that Karluk sees when he is half-awake.  Even though we get only one page of these night images, this vest must take weeks, from tanning the hide, cutting the fabric down, to hand-sewing it all, & even then Amir is able to work on it for a only few hours each night.  But for the reader, this is still the first chapter, the chapter that begins with their wedding day when they first meet.  This is jarring for me (in good ways) for two reasons: one, most of the fiction I’ve been reading lately has been intensely focused on a couple of days or weeks through the entire piece; & two, some of the activities in A Bride’s Story are given not just multiple panels in succession, but multiple successive pages.

Mori gives particular focus here to hunting & wood-carving.  The hunting scenes naturally create a tension of predator stalking or chasing prey, & the scenes are given pages of opportunity to build & fulfill that tension.  Not only do they remind the reader of the time & effort required for such a task, but they further root the reader in the fluidity, movement, & location of this world–unbroken mountain chains & grassland valleys  don’t just populate the background; they are at the forefront of defining how these people live.  A similar feeling is evoked by the scenes of an elderly townsman carving timber for houses.  When I reached these panels & pages, though, I realized I was simply reading too fast.  I forced myself to slow down, which, honestly, is a little difficult for me.  I’m used to processing text & information in an effort to reach peak efficiency, to find a level where maximum absorption, memory, & feedback meet.  But it was this double-page spread that really made me stop & stare for several minutes.

Look at it all.

I had a similar feeling when I toured a museum in China that focused on architecture, as well as the Freer Gallery of the Smithsonian.  There is, for one, the sheer amount of time people spent preparing, carving, &/or painting these materials.  Entire lives & enterprises were devoted to these kinds of things.  & more importantly, to me at least, is that these things are worth doing.  Sure, people could have rough-hewn timber for their houses & buildings.  We could have amorphous, one-color cloth for clothes, something that seems relatively common in futuristic B-movies.  But creating new structure, new patterns, new lines out of fiber or out of wood is something that makes us human.  Well, maybe not “makes us human” so much as how we connect to & define our humanity.  Perhaps, rather, how we find & discover our humanity.

I think this is what Mori wants us to do, or at least, what the manga makes me want to do.  Stop.  Slow down.  Examine every bit of the lines, shapes, patterns of the wood, the clothes, the life of these people, of our own selves & the people we are connected to.  While I’m not really one to advocate “We should return to the olden days!!” *pounds tv tray with fist*, I find myself coming to an ever-deepening appreciation for the artistry & movement of these worlds.  I freely admit that it’s possibly a highly romanticized or perhaps overly humanistic ideal, but at any rate, I feel that attachment to A Bride’s Story.

For further reading on life-slices & the building of worlds:  recent posts by Cuchlann & Pontifus.

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