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The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
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The Garden of Evening Mists (edition 2012)

by Tan Twan Eng

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
6635514,475 (4.22)1 / 354
Member:Citizenjoyce
Title:The Garden of Evening Mists
Authors:Tan Twan Eng
Info:Weinstein Books (2012), Edition: Original, Paperback, 352 pages
Collections:Your library
Rating:****1/2
Tags:Booker Prize, Japan, Malaya, WWII, POW, Aging, Neurology, Aphasia, Tattoos

Work details

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

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Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
Brought to my attention by a patron who told me it was "the best book I've ever read". I don't feel that effusive about this book but will agree that it is an involving historical fiction title. The complicated territory -- Malaysia after WW II, with South African, Japanese, Chinese and British main characters -- parallels the complicated emotional territory. Maybe I have read too much about survival in war time, but in this case, I wasn't drawn in. Didn't feel that the male author donned his main female character with enough understanding and resonance. ( )
  StaffReads | Oct 30, 2014 |
Difficult for me to understand the hype and the Man Booker Prize. ( )
  ebethe | Oct 4, 2014 |
52. The Garden of Evening Mists (Audio) by Tan Twan Eng, read by Anna Bentinck (2012, 15 hours 36 minutes, 352 pages in text form, Listened September 2 - 16)

My first fiction on audio. The narration by Anna Bentinck was superb and I simply loved listening to this. She had to cover various Chinese, Japanese, Boer, Tamil, Malay, British & American accents.

The novel itself is complex enough, assortment of aspects mixed into a complicated Malaysian background, that it gets a bit difficult to describe. But it reads very clean, and the formality of the narrator in the opening sets a tone of precision and reserve.

Yun Ling is an ethnically Chinese female supreme court judge in Malaysia who has just retired. She does not speak Mandarin, but only English, Malay, her family's Chinese dialect and some Japanese. She is also the only survivor of a WWII Japanese labor camp. On retirement, she heads to a Japanese garden in the mountain rainforests, a garden she hasn't visited in over 30 years. As she settles in, already bringing up a variety of curiosities, she begins to tell her story about her time working in the Japanese Garden during the violent Chinese Communist driven Malaysian Emergency in the early 1950's, and, eventually about her experiences during WWII.

It's maybe appropriate that a story exploding with color is centered on a garden, a formal Japanese garden carved out of a wild mountain rain forest. Yun Ling is striking in her anger and defiance, and is curious in her strange compulsion to work with Japanese gardener when so much of her anger is directed toward the Japanese. The gardener, Nakamura Aritomo, is another multifaceted curiosity, and, by extension, so is his garden. And did I mention Boer as an accent.

I found it a moving story. It's also a distinctly Malaysian story, incorporating the complex assemblage of cultures and histories that make up Malaysia. And there is balancing act between the reserved formality of the language, and the intense emotional aspects of the story.

I do wonder how much of affection for this book is due to the reader and how much is due to text, but either way it's a very good novel - complex, interesting, intriguing in many ways, and ultimately thought provoking.

In one of stories in the book, the Japanese gardener tells of meeting a blind Japanese monk when traveling by foot as a young man. He tells that the monk pointed to a flag flapping in the wind and asked, “Is it the wind that is in motion, or is it only the flag that is moving?”

“Both are moving, Holy One.”

The monk shook his head, clearly disappointed by my ignorance. “One day you will realise that there is no wind, and the flag does not move,” he said. “It is only the hearts and minds of men that are restless.”
3 vote dchaikin | Sep 17, 2014 |
Beautiful story about a woman who was taken prisoner by the Japanese in the second world war and how she eventually comes to terms with what happened to her through a promise she gave to her sister. ( )
  Fluffyblue | Aug 16, 2014 |
The author takes us back to Maylasia, the setting for his previous book, The Gift of Rain, to introduce the recently retired judge Yun Ling Teoh in the 1980's. In her retirement she returns to the Malaysian Cameron Highlands to the estate of a Japanese gardener who provided her with refuge after she escaped from a Japanese POW near the end of WWII.

The narrative is beautifully written with strands of the story braided together over time, each twist and turn revealing a new facet of Yun Ling's experiences and the complexities of war and post-war experiences. ( )
  tangledthread | Aug 1, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 55 (next | show all)
The language is as lush as the landscape he seeks to describe. His prose is punctuated with clever imagery; in reuniting with Teoh, Eng brilliantly describes Frederick's wry reaction "A smile skims across his face, capsizing an instant later."

Though on the whole the descriptive narrative was attractive, at times more concision might have saved it from becoming overwrought, as in my view it was, and rather frustratingly holding back what was otherwise a compelling and unique story.
 
As in his first novel, The Gift of Rain, Tan employs exotic settings and mystical aspects of Japanese culture to drive his narrative. But this time the effect is darker. Aritomo's mastery of the art of shakkei - "Borrowed Scenery" - initially seems enlightened, but as we come to question his true motives for absconding to this obscure backwater, it appears increasingly deceptive.
Though later plot elements surrounding a search for buried wartime treasure do not always complement the atmosphere Tan has carefully constructed, this is a beautiful, dark and wistful exploration of loss and remembrance that, appropriately, will stay with you long after reading.
 
This novel ticks many boxes: its themes are serious, its historic grounding solid, its structure careful, its old-fashioned ornamentalism respectable. The reason I found it impossible to love is the quality of the writing. There is no discernible personality in the dutiful, dull voice of Yun Ling, and non-events stalk us on every page: "for a timeless moment I looked straight into his eyes"; "For a long while he does not say anything. Finally he begins to speak in a slow, steady voice." The self-conscious dialogue resembles a history lesson collated for the benefit of the western reader, and everything is ponderously "like" something else, so it takes twice as long: "We were like two moths around a candle, circling closer and closer to the flames, waiting to see whose wings would catch fire first." Despite the dramatic events, the overall effect is one of surprising blandness, like something you've read before.
 
This is a good old-fashioned story with a plot that arcs gracefully, maintains suspense, and stays true to characterisation. Yun Ling’s independent spirit and her anger seep like ink-stains into the narrative, but its distilled essence is a quieter appraisal of the dichotomy of memory, its treacherous failures, its cruel conveniences, its fadeout and deliverance. Outside Magnus’s house are two statues—one is of Mnemosyne the goddess of memory and the other is of her twin sister, the goddess of forgetting, whose name, of course, has been forgotten.

Here, too, the garden is the conceit. “A garden borrows from the earth, the sky, and everything around it, but you borrow from time,” Yun Ling accuses Aritomo, “Your memories are a form of shakkei too. You bring them in to make your life here feel less empty. Like the mountains and the clouds over your garden, you can see them, but they will always be out of reach.” The garden that Yun Ling intends to make is about more than a desire to preserve the memory of her sister, though, for in many ways, it was the idea of this garden that kept the sisters hopeful through their long internment. The Japanese garden, with its many deceptions and beauties, becomes a well-formed metaphor for the ways in which our lives are lived.
 
Aritomo, the enigmatic former gardener to the Emperor of Japan who glides through Tan Twan Eng’s second novel, tells his female apprentice in the Cameron Highlands of early-1950s Malaya that “Every aspect of gardening is a form of deception”.

Just the same applies, you might argue, to the art of fiction, with its incomplete points-of-view and deceptive trompe d’oeil vistas. Tan’s story here is just as elegantly planted as his Man Booker-long listed debut The Gift of Rain, and even more tantalisingly evocative.

Suffused with a satisfying richness of colour and character, it still abounds in hidden passageways and occult corners. Mysteries and secrets persist. Tan dwells often on the borderline states, the in between areas, of Japanese art: the archer’s hiatus before the arrow speeds from the bow; the patch of skin that a master of the horimono tattoo will leave bare; or the “beautiful and sorrowful” moment “just as the last leaf is about to drop”.
added by kidzdoc | editThe Independent, Boyd Tonkin (Apr 28, 2012)
 

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Tan Twan Engprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Bentinck, AnnaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
There is a goddess of Memory, Mnemosyne; but none of Forgetting. Yet there should be, as they are twin sisters, twin powers, and walk on either side of us, disputing for sovereignty over us and who we are, all the way until death.

Richard Holmes, A Meander Through Memory and Forgetting
Dedication
For my sister

And

Opgedra aan A J Buys — sonder jou sou hierdie boek dubbel so lank en halfpad so goed wees. Mag jou eie mooi taal altyd gedy.
First words
On a mountain above the clouds once lived a man who had been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan.
Quotations
Memory is like patches of sunlight in an overcast valley, shifting with the movement of the clouds. Now and then the light will fall on a particular point in time, illuminating it for a moment before the wind seals up the gap, and the world is in shadows again.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
Malaya, 1951. Yun Ling Teoh, the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed tea plantations of Cameron Highlands. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Aritomo  refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice "until the  monsoon comes." Then she can design a garden for herself.

As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener and his art. while all around them a communist guerilla war rages. But the Garden of Evening Mists remains a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?
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"Malaya, 1951. Yun Ling Teoh, the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed tea plantations of Cameron Highlands. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice "until the monsoon comes." Then she can design a garden for herself. As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener and his art, while all around them a communist guerilla war rages. But the Garden of Evening Mists remains a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?"--P. [4] of cover.… (more)

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