What began as a visual marvel in volume 1, surely does not disappoint in the continuing two volumes. ‘Exquisite’ still hardly does the panels justice, but just know that every page will make you want to linger to discover and enjoy the glorious details – the garments alone are breathtaking – of life in 19th-century Central Asia along the legendary Silk Road.
By volume 2, the gentle, nurturing Amir has settled well into her new family. The age difference with her boy-husband Karluk seems to lessen as he matures, while their growing comfort in each others’ company is enhanced by the sweet laughter they share often (every marriage should be so blessed!). Amir is beloved among Karluk’s extended family and community, finding a special bond with the talented, headstrong Pariya (go, girl, go!) who is still waiting (not so patiently) to be married off. When Amir’s father, brother, and clansmen appear unexpectedly to reclaim her – using the excuse that she remains childless, but in truth to assuage a wealthy neighboring clan that’s known to “treat their women pretty terribly” (murder seems to go unpunished) – the entire village rallies to keep Amir safe.
The anachronistic Mr. Smith – who turns out to be a peripatetic British linguist doing fieldwork throughout Central Asia – ventures forth from Karluk’s home at the end of volume 2, and takes over (surprisingly) as the protagonist in volume 3. Setting off on a journey of thousands of miles, ultimately heading to Ankara (Turkey), Mr. Smith manages to lose all his belongings not long after Karluk and Amir guide him from their village. In his frantic search, he meets a local young woman, Talas, who invites him to stay with her and her elderly mother-in-law while Mr. Smith waits for his missing guide. The mother-in-law (whose five sons Talas married, and outlived!) worries desperately about lovely Talas’ future and looks to Mr. Smith to provide a possible escape from a less-than-desirable next marriage. But Mr. Smith has his own future to worry about, especially when he lands in jail as a spy …!
As much of a page-turner as the story is (volume 4 can’t come soon enough!), the art is simply so stunning that this is most vehemently not a manga to rush through. If you must know what happens next, read quickly, but then go back to the beginning and study every pane. Really. From facial expressions to tiny blemishes (yup, they got zits back then, too), to wrinkled notebook pages to dirty dishes, to intricate dangling earrings blowing in the wind to the most elaborate stitching on family heirlooms, creator Mori’s dazzling work is proof positive of the idiom ‘god is in the details’ (and that’s any and every god). You can’t help but be enthralled.
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2011, 2012 (United States)