A Bride’s Story as Feminist Literature

エイホン家 by めかぶ (Pixiv: 2388857)

This was the manga that I wanted to write about on Monday to start off my “Feminist Friendly Titles” week. I didn’t have the 2nd volume on-hand earlier this week, so thank you, NYPL for having a spare copy of the book for me to browse.

(I realize that the post title is super pretentious, but I was an English lit. major and old habits die hard~)

A Bride’s Story exemplifies the medium at its artistic best. Kaoru MORI’s attention to the smallest detail is evident on each page. I can’t even begin to think about the number of hours it’s taken to draw the intricate embroidery and patterns on all the clothing and fabrics and the woodwork.  In the author’s notes in volume 2, she says that drawing all these details “makes her feel alive.” I adore Mori, but that statement just made me love her even more.

The first two volumes of A Bride’s Story center around Amir Halgal and her husband Karluk Eihon. Amir arrives at her new family’s home and must learn to adapt to not only her life as a young bride, but also to the lifestyle and expectations of her husband and the rest of the family. The chapters cover various aspects of this society’s culture and traditions, from food preparation, to hunting and herding, and clan relations. The chapters are structured as short vignettes, focusing specifically on that one detail of the life of Amir and Karluk (or one of their family) before moving to another detail in a later chapter.

A Closer Look at the Young Bride

It’s fitting that, among the cast of characters living in the Eihon home, there’s a English anthropologist named Smith who’s studying the clan and their culture, almost as a stand-in for the reader. As the first titular “young bride,” I want to channel Smith and try to figure out what Amir is all about.

When we first meet Amir, she’s twenty years old. While the author has mentioned that she has other siblings, the only family member whom we do see is her elder brother, Azel. The Halgal family, unlike the Eihon, are nomadic during the summer months yet have a particular spot where they spend their winters.  This partially nomadic lifestyle explains Amir’s expertise in tracking and hunting.  She is an expert with a bow, able to shoot birds from the sky and rabbits in the steppe. In addition, she is also an excellent horse rider, able to climb on a horse sprinting at breakneck speed. In short, she’s pretty kickass and doesn’t even realize it.

Amir’s also not too shabby in the domestic arena: after shooting the rabbit, she dresses and prepares a stew for Karluk and the rest of the family. She then uses the rabbit fur to sew him a lined vest. In another chapter, she embroiders a tunic for Karluk, containing various motifs to protect him from illness. It’s one of the recurring scenes running through these volumes, in that Amir genuinely cares for her husband’s well-being and will do what she can to make him happy and comfortable.

Being that she is from another clan and still unfamiliar with the social customs of her new clan, Amir sometimes finds herself committing some faux pas.  Thinking that her in-laws thought that her clothes smelled bad, she undresses and runs out in her underclothes so that she could wash her dress — probably scandalizing  everyone in town who saw her in doing so.  She’s so innocent and well-meaning, though, that they probably shrugged it off immediately.

It’s really just so easy to love Amir.

Problematic Issues

Let me stop pussyfooting: one of the concerns that I’ve seen from other people who’ve read this manga is the eight-year age difference between Amir and Karluk.  (Which, by the way, is the same age difference between Hazuki and Rokka in Natsuyuki Rendezvous but whatever.)  The marriage between Amir and Karluk was arranged by their elders, so it fits the narrative well in that clan and tribal relationships are formed and maintained through inter-marriages with other clans. Which brings us to another problematic issue, that is, the treatment of Amir as a mere commodity, but later.

As Amir’s husband, Karluk occupies an interesting space in the narrative. He is twelve, but he is expected to be a man once she arrived. They have their own home, and she generally defers to him for the final decisions. For all of Amir’s innocence, Karluk possesses a complementary maturity. His impression of Amir may have been of an older sister at the onset of their marriage, but gradually, you could see him looking at her not only with affection, but attraction.  Also, Mori deftly handles the intimate moments between the young husband and his wife by showing us just enough that we can understand their initial awkwardness yet giving them enough distance during their closest moments.

The main point of conflict happens when Amir’s brother, Azel, attempts to reclaim her back to their clan. They want to use her as a bargaining chip to yet another (and much stronger) clan to the North. Of course, the Eihon will not agree to this insult. They tell Azel that Amir is now part of their family and that she will not be going anywhere with him. From this, violence results in a later chapter, and Amir and Karluk are faced with the possibility of no longer being married.

How can I include this manga as a feminist-friendly title when women are objectified? Amir, in her clan’s eyes, is property — something that can be given and taken back on their whim. I don’t see this as a problematic issue to the manga since this, unfortunately, still happens in our modern world, not just in the fictional 19th century Caucasus.  Women, all over the world are treated not as persons, but as commodities. If a manga can continue to bring this issue to the forefront of discourse and discussion, then I think that manga has succeeded in more ways than one.  Discussing feminism doesn’t just mean praising the good and condemning the bad — sometimes you need to expose what’s wrong in the world, in how women are treated, and from that, find a way to fix or eliminate the problem.

I don’t know how much more enthusiastically I can recommend this title: it has gloriously beautiful art; greatly nuanced characterizations, especially in its lead female Amir; a sweet developing romance; and relevance to real-life issues. If I’ve at least convinced you to give it a browse the next time you find yourself at a bookstore (or library), then I’ve done a good job.

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6 thoughts on “A Bride’s Story as Feminist Literature

  1. A Bride’s Story exemplifies the medium at its artistic best. Kaoru MORI’s attention to the smallest detail is evident on each page. I can’t even begin to think about the number of hours it’s taken to draw the intricate embroidery and patterns on all the clothing and fabrics and the woodwork.

    I just stare at the pages sometimes, then go look at my drawings, then proceed to sit in a corner, dejected… :/

    Yeah that is probably a major reason some people may not want to check out A Bride’s Story (that and the price tag actually) because of the eight year relationship gap. I don’t find it a problem because I associate that with the century the story is set at, and that’s just an example of what most likely happened in those times.

    (Which, by the way, is the same age difference between Hazuki and Rokka in Natsuyuki Rendezvous but whatever.)

    The major difference is not the relationship, but the responsibility. Hazuki and Rokka are both adults, living by themselves and able to make decisions for themselves. Karluk is only 12 and considered a minor, and is being taken care of by his own family–who made the decision to marry Amir in the first place. But again, this goes back to difference of centuries of times, so for me I don’t see this as a good comparison.

    • I used the Hazuki/Rokka example somewhat facetiously. You’re right, there is a difference that age does impart in the formation of a romantic relationship, even taking into account their cultural circumstances. Nonetheless, I’d like to point out that the older the persons get, the less the age difference matters, both in fiction and in my limited personal experience.

  2. I also have never perceived the age gap as a problem. Like you said, the story is set in 19th century Caucasus, and anyone should be able to accept a fictional historical context like that. Also, Kaoru Mori makes it easy for us to like Karluk. Amir’s brothers might have objectified her, and the world of A Bride’s Story might be harsh for women, but in private, seeing the way husband and wife interact with each other, it seems to me like they are equals on an emotional level. Karluk never gives you the impression that he is dominating Amir in any way.
    I would go even further. Arranged marriages might be hard to understand today, but if one looks at 19th century literature (especially Russian), they are full of arranged marriages. The realistic depiction of those relationships from classic literature suggests that it is quite possible for couples to grow fond of each other over time and develop some sort of love. At least to me it sounds somewhat plausible. In that respect, I think Amir and Karluk’s feelings for each other are quite real.

    What makes any of Kaoru Mori’s manga such good feminist titles is that she draws manga for seinen magazines, but from a distinctly female perspective. Emma is largely written from the point of view of the titular character, and A Bride’s Story most strongly focuses on the concerns, hobbies and feelings of its female characters. Even Mr. Smith is mostly a red thread whose main purpose in the storyline is to meet other interesting female characters.

    PS. It seems my real e-mail address brings me to a login screen for which I have absolutely no idea what the password is.

  3. I should get started on this manga soon because it’s set in Central Asia. My knowledge of the place is limited to they used to be Russia’s underlings and for some reason they’re still in the Russian-influenced CIS.

  4. First of all, the fanart you chose to decorate the post is wonderful and lead me to hour-long search in pixiv and to more jaw-dropping reactions. You could host some more or upload manga pages so that everyone gets to see the details that hardly can be described into words. I won’t ever forget the pages dedicated to the making of furnitures and doors…

    Although I love the manga, it is still hard to swallow the arcs that center around what a woman should do to get married off or how fathers decide everything for their daughters. Emir and Karluk are a great couple and I’d rather see more of their life and relationship, since it entails more mature people and better treatment of women. But yes, you are right; there’s a need for such unpleasant topics to be discussed in the very present.

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