A Bride’s Story, Volume 4, is the fourth installment of Kaoru Mori’s historical manga series. Originally published as Otoyomegatari, Volume 4, this volume was first published in Japan in 2012. The English translation appeared in 2013.
Guide Ali delivers English scholar Henry Smith to Muynak, a small town at the edge of the Aral Sea, at which point Smith rewards Ali’s diligence by falling off his camel into the water. Smith is retrieved from the water by twin sisters Laila and Leily. It is on these two teens the narrative focuses.
The twins are disappointed in their catch. Mr. Smith looks ancient to them; moreover, his glasses strike them as quite peculiar. Nevertheless, when Smith claims to be a doctor, they hustle him off to their home, asking him to tend to their ailing grandfather. Fortunately for the old man (and quite possibly Smith as well), the old man’s ailment is within Smith’s extremely limited medical expertise to treat.
Doctors do not often visit the small town. When news of Smith’s presence spreads, a large crowd begins to gather, seeking medical attention from Smith. This plays into the twins’ hands perfectly. More people mean more men; the odds of that they will find husbands are improving.
The sisters’ criteria for their future husbands are quite straightforward and reasonable. The men should be respectable, hardworking, good-looking, wealthy, and most importantly, utterly obedient. Inconceivably, no men fitting this description have sought the sisters out, nor has their father succeeded in finding any such grooms.
Having lost patience with their father’s efforts in this matter, the sisters have set out to find husbands for themselves. After careful scouting for promising looking potential grooms, the pair launch scheme after zany scheme to trap men into marriage, men who are variously astonished, angry, alarmed, and sometimes semi-conscious. Alas, the sisters’ bold schemes have gained no husbands, only smacks on the head from their increasing irritated father.
The twins have sold their father short. He is indeed looking for possible husbands for his daughters. Admittedly, his list of criteria differs from those chosen by his daughters. He wants hardworking grooms, yes, but it’s even more important that they not be intimidated by the girls and that they don’t run screaming from the match.
It so happens that two perfect candidates are at hand. This may come as a tremendous surprise to the brides-to-be.
Careful Soviet stewardship will do for this region of Central Asia what the Soviet Union did for Pripyat. The sea from which the locals make their living will vanish, replaced by a toxic desert.
It is very unlikely that any of the characters will live long enough to see that happen, although it’s not (quite) impossible.
Given that Volume 3 featured an attempt to marry off Mr. Smith to a local widow, one might expect the twins, or their father, to come up with the same idea. Not so! The idea does not seem to cross their father’s mind. Perhaps this is because the sisters were vocal about how ancient they thought Smith was. It’s more likely to be due to the fact that Mr. Smith is an extremely unsuitable groom from a Central Asian perspective. He lacks suitable male skills, such as horsemanship. Moreover, he is bound to leave the area, taking the sisters with him1.
There’s another reason this volume doesn’t play with the notion of marrying off Mr. Smith. That was the plot of Volume 3. Not being the sort of author to repeat herself, Mori doesn’t.
This is a much more light-hearted volume than was Volume 3. The twins’ bold efforts are little inhibited by common sense, but the consequences of their schemes are limited to paternal head smacks2. Their elders have their best interests at heart, so they are fairly certain of a happy marriage3, even if it’s not the one they had in mind.
In addition to the comedy, Mori provides the eye-candy her audience expects. While her palette of faces is still a bit limited, her depiction of objects is detailed and glorious.
All in all, this was a pleasant change of pace, a break from the usual grim fare. At least it is so if I don’t think about what the next century has in store for this Asian region.
1: The circumstances in which widow Talas found herself were unusual. Marriage to Smith would have allowed her to escape from a potentially intolerable situation.
2: Since the twins know next to nothing about the men they target, they run the risk of entrapping homicidal brutes into marriage. Other relationships depicted in earlier volumes make it clear that the worst marriages are pretty bad. There’s a subplot about brides being kicked to death for disappointing their new families.
3: But what of the poor grooms stuck with the twins? They understand what they are getting into and seem resigned to their fates. Indeed, they don’t seem all that upset. Or surprised.