2016’s A Bride’s Story, Vol. 9 is the ninth tankōbon in Kaoru Mori’s historical manga, which is titled Otoyomegatari in the original Japanese. The English translation of this volume appeared in 2017. I seem to be catching up with publication faster than I’d like: there are only four more volumes….
Volume 9 wrestles with the same conundrum Volume 8 examined: is Umar so clearly well-matched with Pariya that even Pariya cannot somehow overthink the courtship into disaster?
Working in Pariya’s favour: courtship in this part of 19th century Central Asia is a family level matter, not something left up to young people. Happily for Umar and Pariya, both Umar’s father and Pariya’s father believe the other man’s child has virtues to offer. Umar is bright and hard-working, while Pariya is a robust young woman who will not die young as Umar’s mother did1. While the negotiation process is by its nature protracted, the match seems inevitable.
Although Pariya has a monumental amount of work to complete before she can marry, all of her dowery textiles having been destroyed several volumes ago, she has enough spare time to worry that her habitually ferocious expression and unconventional mannerisms may have distanced Umar. The obvious solution? Contrive some complex, scenario whereby she can discuss waterwheels with Umar, waterwheels being a subject she knows is close to the young man’s heart.
Her scheming comes to nothing. However, fate (and quite possibly the author) is on her side. When an errand sends her on a lengthy walk into the countryside, Umar offers her a ride on his cart. Now the only impediment to a heart-felt discourse on waterwheels is Pariya’s crippling social anxiety.
However, the romantic opportunity may itself provide crisis, as custom decrees that unmarried persons should not wander off together.
Trigger warning for any right-wingers reading this: much of the town having been leveled in an unprovoked attack, the townsfolk are helping each other rebuild. Mutual aid!
I know some of you will be very worried about waterwheels. Let me assure you up front. This is not one of those books that teases the reader about waterwheels and then fails to deliver. There is a waterwheel, and it does get discussed.
As established in a previous volume, the level of toleration in the cultures along this stretch of the Silk Road for spontaneous, unmonitored courtship and any hint of unchaste behavior is pretty close to zero. I don’t have the previous volume to hand, but I seem to remember a reference to a couple who had to get married after the man inadvertently removed the woman’s head covering. Jumping on a cart together is bold behavior, staying away overnight moreso, but the thing that really kicks the crisis off is that people from outside the town become aware that Umar and Pariya are unmarried people seen in each other’s company without a chaperone. This may seem funny to us, but the whole affair could have turned out very badly for the pair2.
Pariya’s attempts to prove to Umar that she likes him are not limited to waterwheels. There’s a rather endearing scene involving freshly baked bread as well. Her gift of a hat has world-altering consequences. However, I do know how people feel about waterwheels, so this must be mentioned.
This tankōbon is as beautifully illustrated as previous volumes.
As for the plot … while there’s the potential for disaster at every step, that’s not the story the author wants to tell. Instead, this volume is a refreshing romantic comedy about a halting courtship (thanks to terrible communications) that entertains the whole community.
1: This is not “I think your daughter is fine livestock.” Umar’s father simply wants his son to have a long marriage. The father was widowed while still young, didn’t like it, and feels that good health should be required of his daughter-in-law.
2: Speaking of things that could have turned out badly: Smith and his guide Ali get jumped by bandits but escape, while the ill-fated Halgal try to negotiate with an unfamiliar, sensibly cautious tribe for the use of a well. It’s probably for the best the tribe with the well has no idea that the Halgal recently launched an unprovoked attack on a town.