2015’s A Bride’s Story, Volume 7 (retitled from the original Otoyomegatari) is the seventh tankōbon for Kaoru Mori’s historical manga series. The English translation has lagged Japanese publication by only about half a year.
Wandering British scholar Henry Smith and his long-suffering guide Ali make their way to Persia. There they are hosted by a fabulously wealthy Persian man who has a lovely bride, Anis, whose existence Smith will have to take on faith, as they will never meet.
The focus of this volume is the story of Anis.
Anis’ doting husband lavishes on Anis every luxury that he thinks a wife might want. She lives in a palace with delightful gardens; she has a charming young son; her devoted maid Mahfu sees to her every need. But she’s lonely. She lives in purdah and sees no man other than her husband. Moreover, she seems to have only the one servant, Mahfu. This isolation palls.
Mahfu suggests a solution: Anis could visit the women’s public bathhouse and seek a friend there. Although Anis’ husband is dubious that his wife would enjoy the boisterous chaos of the bathhouse, he permits her visit, little realizing that not only will Anis enjoy the company of other women, but she will insist on further visits.
Anis sees someone she believes entirely suitable as a friend, a stunning beauty. At first she doesn’t even know the woman’s name, but she persists. In short order, Anis strikes up a friendship with the other woman. Soon Anis and Sherine are the closest of friends.
Tragedy strikes when Sherine’s husband dies suddenly. Sherine has very little money; she must support her child and her aged in-laws. Her future seems dismal. Anis turns to her husband for a solution. Anis’ husband will do nearly anything for Anis. Will he take a second wife for Anis’ sake?
I was going to say this is another volume of A Bride’s Story in which nothing terrible happens … but then I remembered that Sherine’s husband does drop dead from a stroke, which was probably fairly undesirable from his point of view. Well, he’s only on stage long enough to die, so while there is tragedy, it’s only noted as it affects Anis and Sherine’s relationship. It is a rare example of fridging in which the corpse in the refrigerator is a man. Indeed, the men in this volume are very minor characters.
My knowledge of Persian culture of this place and time is negligible so how accurate all this is I cannot say. Have fun critiquing it in comments! One notices, however, that while certain works of fiction tend to paint Persian husbands as jailors or even brutes (while painting any nearby European men in a comparatively positive light), that’s not what’s going on here: Anis’ husband dotes on his wife and gives her anything in his power to give.
Speaking of relationships: servants in this time and place either have a lot of leeway in the matter of deadpan snarking or neither Ali nor Mahfu’s employers are picking up on the subtext of their servants’ comments.
Adventurer Smith is on stage just long enough to introduce Anis and her household. We get occasional glimpses of Smith, who proves a minor distraction for Anis’ husband. Nor do we learn much about the husband, who is unnamed. On the plus side, Smith manages to get through the adventure without being taken for a spy or suitable husband material, which is for Smith is quite an achievement.
The relationship between Anis and Sherine is best described in Islamic terms. They are inseparable; they will probably pledge in a siqqah-yi khwahar khwandagi to be loyal to each other above all others. Some such friends arrange to be buried together. Make of this what you will.
The art is as ever delightful, although some readers may wish to be aware that due to the focus on bathhouses, there is a lot of nudity.
I have not read past this point, so I cannot guess what will happen in the next volume. Will it focus on Anis and Sherine? Or will the focus shift back to Central Asia?