Thermae Romae I by Mari Yamazaki, translated by Stephen Paul
Rome, 128 AD. Even back then architects had a hard time finding work. Poor, poor Lucius – in spite of his fancy Athens training, his designs are considered “half-baked,” and he finds himself “blacklisted out of the industry.” Instead of sulking, an old friend convinces him to go soaking … in a public bath, the ancient Roman answer to all problems.
Somehow he gets himself pulled into a mysterious drain … and pops up in modern Japan, of course in a traditional bath. Understandably bewildered, Lucius has enough wits to make mental notes, so when he miraculous time-travels back home, his next bathhouse design is a local sensation – complete with ‘out-of-the-world’ improvements including calming wall murals, weekly announcement boards, clothing baskets for customers, and refreshing milk drinks (Yakult, anyone?).
Volume I includes 10 such time-traveling ‘research trips’ for Lucius, whose growing reputation eventually gets him noticed by Emperor Hadrian. And, of course, the aging leader must have a unique bath of his own! Lucius continues to entice the public with his latest designs – from outdoor hot springs to water slides (!) – based on what he learns from the modern, bath-obsessed Japanese. Each chapter is yet another bubbly adventure.
For award-winning creator Mari Yamazaki, “Rome & Baths” are the loves of her life: “Perhaps shared nakedness in the presence of hot water is a basic principle of peace,” she muses. If only world leaders could be so easily convinced, ahem!
At the end of each chapter, Yamazaki offers an entertaining mixture of Roman history, cultural insight, and personal experiences, all about baths and bathing from around over the world. As delightful as this inaugural volume is, my one cringe-inducing complaint might be Yamazaki’s reference to “those flat-faces,” complete with occasional caricatured, stereotypical representations whenever Lucius gets sucked out of his universe. I’d like to think that since Yamazaki herself is Japanese-born, with peripatetic stopovers in the Middle East, Italy, and Portugal, and being currently Chicago-domiciled, hers is such a broad, international outlook that my discontent is merely a sign of my own oversensitive training. That’s what I’m telling myself for now, because I utterly admit I’m certainly looking forward to sharing more of Lucius’ hothouse innovations. Volume II debuts in May …
Readers: Young Adult, Adult
Published: 2012 (United States)