by Kaoru Mori; adapted by William Flanagan
published by Yen Press; $16.99 US
We follow Mr. Smith, the English scholar who’s studying nomadic cultures, out of the previous volume into new adventures. But never fear, fans, Amir and her husband Karluk make an appearance, riding to the rescue at just the right time.
Moreover, by moving the reader to a new group of characters, we learn more about society at the time, see more gorgeous Kaoru Mori art and costume designs, and in a way, mimic how the nomad herders live and see life. We have connections with the characters from the previous book, and we hope to see them again and celebrate with them, but we aren’t sure when that might happen. We have to have faith that our routines and the change of the seasons will bring us back together some time in the future.
Perhaps that’s too poetic, but the gloriously detailed images inspire me to see beauty wherever I can. The actual events of this book are somewhat prosaic. Smith journeys to the nearest town, where he’s supposed to meet a guide to take him to Ankara. Unfortunately, while being hustled in the marketplace, his horse and belongings are stolen. A young widow, Talas, has had the same thing happen to her, so the two become acquainted. She brings Smith home to stay with her mother-in-law and her, which complicates events when an uncle shows up with plans to remarry her to his son.
Talas’ history and her daily life shed new insight on how difficult life could be as a matter of course. Death could be sudden, and as Smith observes, “the women of this region all seem to work very hard…. The land itself requires that much work for a person just to survive.” Between gathering and making food, watching their animals, and creating anything else they need, such as the lovely decorated textiles that make the characters so distinctive, there’s a lot of work in a day.
Behind it all is the reminder that two women living together do so only at the sufferance of their male relatives. The question of the future arises, and how much to factor it into one’s decision-making in the present.
This is a very quieting manga. It’s such a foreign, exotic, beautifully illustrated world that it’s wonderful to get lost in it, but there are also life lessons to absorb. And just as I say that, the mood of the book changes. After an interlude of short comic strips starring the terrifically blunt Pariya, things become much more dangerous for Mr. Smith. His foreign nature gets him into trouble when someone decides he needs to be put out of the way, leading to a section of tension and suspense — leavened with a meal scavenged at the market. It’s those details, the mentions of what people eat and how they make it, the elements that bring another way of life alive, that I love best about the book.
(The publisher provided a review copy.)