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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
6034916,217 (4.25)1 / 322
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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English (48)  Dutch (1)  All languages (49)
Showing 1-5 of 48 (next | show all)
I really enjoyed the book, the language and the descriptive passages within. I felt I was walking in the gardens and could almost imagine the smells of the Highlands and the garden. I even delayed reading the last chapter as I enjoyed it so much - crazy I know but I had a feeling once I finished it the garden was something I was lucky enough to witness before it was demolished. ( )
  jacquid | May 14, 2014 |
As good as Salmon Rushdie's "The Moors Last Sigh" or " Memoirs of a Geisha" (forgot author). Superb in so many ways.
A beautiful use of language. ( )
  DeanClark | May 6, 2014 |
Are all of us the same, I wonder, navigating our lives by interpreting the silences between words spoken, analyzing the returning echoes of our memory in order to chart the terrain, in order to make sense of the world around us?"...the heart of a contemplative state", in Tan's words, would have worked as a subsidiary title. Forbearing all contemptuous accusations of New Age influence, of course, for everyone knows that acceptable enlightenment may only be found in the dry and musty cacophonies of the classics, Europe as the official and Asia as the guilty pleasure. Certainly not in the pages of Malaysia breeding brought only to light within the last five years, growing to life a branch of World War Two and indeed a span of the globe entire rarely touched upon in modern literature with such respect, such dignity, a measured tread of facts and culture with a strength and a beauty to it that is so often shoddily spat out with glib pathos and cloying sentiment. But not here.

I can't think of the last time when a male author embodied a female voice so well. There may never have been a past example, for this narrator is not only female but one who has suffered from the world, a clinical victim all too easily consigned to passive madness and masculine rescue. This work would have still appealed to me had this been the case, piqued as I am by countries across the Pacific in both their history and their aesthetic glory, but it would have been a cold appreciation, reserved for that which does something new with the same old faulty mechanisms. Such a pleasure, then, to find literature that gives me faith in the "modern", a time when I shall not have to compartmentalize my expectations between the genders, retreating to female authors for a guarantee of peace from the endless compromise. As a woman, this evidence that the other side is not only listening, but making an effort, means the world.

In terms of the story that this much admired Teoh Yun Ling is moving through, I love it for its mindfulness of what it can give the reader, set as it is in a ream of countries and cultures foreign to the English powerhouses of the last word on literature. Yes, World War Two is a common subject, but not like this, not in Malaya with Boer Wars as a past and independence from the British Empire as a future where events and enmities fly fast in the face of those surviving. I myself value works of fiction by those who have a stake in the story's heritage far more than any outsider nonfiction, and so I was pleased by Tan's interweaving of the reality of his setting with the contours of his tale. The feeling left behind is akin to the filling of an empty space on a mental grasp of the world entire, one sweetened by other cultural aspects Tan chose to expound upon.

Aesthetic. You have your paintings, your literature, your sculptures and your buildings, but here is one of the few instances where gardening and tattoos serve as methods of enlightenment, shakkei and horomino just two examples of the lynch pin nomenclature wherein humans founded their worth upon a movement. Tan suffuses his work with contemplation of these two arts almost to the point that character and narrative and the rest of normative evaluations of books fall by the wayside, but not quite. From the beginning, we readers are searching alongside Teoh Yun Ling for her reconciliation, following her trails from judiciary to highlands and back again, justice proving as complex and vague an entirety as the Garden of Evening Mists; exacting a lifetime for a personal peace.Through the windows I watch the mists thicken, wiping away the mountains borrowed by the garden. Are the mists, too, an element of shakkei incorporated by Aritomo? I wonder. To use not only the mountains, but the wind, the clouds, the ever-changing light? Did he borrow from heaven itself? ( )
  Korrick | Apr 29, 2014 |
This is, quite simply, a breathtaking book, though I fear my description below will fail adequately to capture any of its beguiling mystique.

The basic plot concerns the return in the late 1980s of recently-retired judge, Yun Ling Teoh, one of only two women to have been appointed to the Malaysian Supreme Court Bench, to the region of the Cameron Highlands where she had grown up. A few weeks earlier she had been diagnosed as suffering from a particular form of aphasia which, she has been advised, is likely to cause her to lose all of her memories, and this prompted her to take early retirement. She wants to try to commit her story to paper wile she can still remember it.

We gradually learn that during the Second World War she had been imprisoned by the Japanese in an internment camp somewhere in the heart of Malaysia. Her elder sister, Yun Hong, had been imprisoned with her and had died in the camp. We subsequently discover that the mistreatment of the inmates of that camp had been on a particularly gruesome scale Yun Ling had been the only survivor from that camp. Yun Hong had died there.

As Yun Ling starts to record her memoirs, the action moves back to the period immediately following the end of the Second World War. Having returned to freedom Yun Ling returns to the area and stays with Magnus Pretorius, a South African veteran of the Boer War who had relocated to Malaya where he had built up an esteemed tea plantation and become a close friend of Yun Ling's family. Liberation from the Japanese Occupation was followed by a bloody struggle for independence, which would culminate in the transformation from British-ruled Malay to the Independent Malaysia. This was not a seamless or bloodless change, and cells of communist terrorists (referred to as CTs) are rife throughout the rain forest and commit a number of atrocities in the area where Yun Ling and the Pretorius family are living.

Shortly before the war began, Yun Ling and her family had made a brief visit to Japan where she and, to an even greater degree, her sister had fallen in love with the concept of the Japanese ceremonial garden. While they had been incarcerated the two girls had consoled themselves with dreams of the garden that they would create if they were ever released.

Back in the Cameron Highlands Yun Ling is introduced to Nakamura Aritomo, formerly the Head Gardener for Emperor Hirohito. Having fallen out with the Emperor he has been exiled to Malaya where he starts trying to create his own garden. Despite her initial revulsion for all things Japanese, Yun Ling comes to work alongside, and gradually befriends Aritomo, being enchanted by his philosophy of life.

This gives some of the basic context, but the author manages to weave a marvellous story that seems to operate flawlessly on so many levels while also offering a concise history of Malaya-Malaysia in the post-war and post-colonial period, and an insight into the philosophy of Japanese horticulture. The overall effect is utterly hypnotic. ( )
  Eyejaybee | Apr 21, 2014 |
I love a book that teaches me something as well as entertains and that is the primary reason I enjoy historical fiction. This book taught me about a period of history I knew very little about - the experience of Malaya during WWII at the hands of the Japanese and their experience afterwards during the communist insurgencies. I also learned about tea plantations, Japanese gardens, the Japanese experience of WWII and the art of horimono as well as the importance and subjectivity of memory. This book was a delight on many levels. ( )
  PennyAnne | Mar 29, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 48 (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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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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