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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

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8146211,186 (4.15)1 / 399
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 (60)  Finnish (1)  All languages (61)
Showing 1-5 of 60 (next | show all)
This is a 3 . Quite a mix of WWII, Malaysia, Japanese gardening, tatoos, Chinese vs. Japanese, dementia, empire. ( )
  idiotgirl | Dec 25, 2015 |
The Garden of Evening Mists by the Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng has received much critical acclaim and won both the Man Asian Literary Prize (now called the "Asian Literary Prize") in 2012, and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The novel is especially praised for its beautiful language, but ultimately it is nothing more than an ordinary piece of pulp fiction.

Readers of The Garden of Evening Mists are confronted with an overwhelmingly beautiful style of writing, bringing to life the lush, emerald-green magic of the Malaysian forest, tea plantations and the beauty of Japanese gardens. There are rich allusions to Asian architecture, gardening and culture in general, mixing the finer sentiments of colonial history, with the harshness of the Japanese occupation, and Malaysian nationalism.

The novel has a large number of personae, whose complex relationships are gradually revealed to the reader. The narrative structure is not entirely linear. Most of the novel is a flash back of the main character, with further reminiscences embedded. However, the narrative develops beyond the time of the flashback point at the opening of the novel. The novel has apparently two main characters, or possibly three. With the large number of personae, and the four groups of characters, i.e. Yun Ling and her sister, the Japanese, the tea planters and the Communist freedom fighters, it seems the author was unable to focus on one particular group, and ultimately his fascination seems to lie most with the Japanese, particularly in the enigmatic character of Aritomo, the gardener.

The sub-plot in the novel of the freedom fighters of the South-African Transvaal, personified in the character Magnus Pretorius, whose name so clearly points to Pretoria, and his defiance of British colonial rule in Malaysia is mirrored in the guerilla of the Communist freedom fighters striving for Malaysian independence. Pretorius personal history at the hands of the British in South Africa, and his sister's death in a concentration camp, mirrors Yun Ling's experience during the Japanese occupation. In the novel, Tan Twan Eng writes that Pretorius found his home when he discovered that Jan van Riebeeck was buried there, in Malacca, "(i)n the church grounds" of St. Paul’s (p. 51). However, there is no church on the hill named St. Paul’s in Malacca, and old Van Riebeeck is buried in the Groote Kerk, Jakarta, Indonesia, formerly Batavia.

Although Yun Ling is presented as a very strong character, her submission to Arimoto, again and again, is a key feature of the novel. Her willingness to submit to Aritomo seems much more from a belated type of Stockholm syndrome that from love, as claimed in the novel. The relationship between Yun Ling and Aritomo lack depth, and it is increasingly obvious that Aritomo simply uses Yun Ling. In a way, she has never left the camp, and the place she is looking for is written on her back. The cruel irony of the book is that Yun Ling will never know the location of the camp, because she can never find it, although she creates and carries the key to finding it.

As the novel seemingly develops around two main characters, Yun ling and Aritomo, however, Yun Ling's position is that of submission to Aritomo, likewise The Garden of Evening Mists
has two entwined main story lines, in which the story line of Aritomo takes the upper and Yun Ling's takes the lower. Thus, the tragedy of the fate of Yun Ling's sister is made subordinate to the quest for Yamashita's gold, in the plot structure of the role of the Golden Lily, which, in the novel has been transplanted from the Philippines to Malaysia.

The major importance of the Golden Lily motive in The Garden of Evening Mists turns the novel into pulp fiction on the level of The Da Vinci Code; however, the beauty of the use of languages will attract literary readers. Still, particularly the end of the novel, may disappoint literary readers, and it is quite surprising why the novel was awarded the Man Asian Literary Prize for Literary fiction. ( )
1 vote edwinbcn | Sep 5, 2015 |
Judge T... is retiring and returning to a place where she spent much time as a young woman. Although born in Malaysia, she is Chinese and was held as a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp during the war between China and Japan. After the war in which her sister who was with her died, she goes on to become a judge. Now years later and diagnosed with a neurological order which will take her memory, she is returning to Yugiri where she spent time as a young woman and had a love relationship with Aritomo, a Japanese gardener.

Teoh Yun Ling met Aritomo because she wanted to have him build a Japanese garden for her in memory of her sister who perished during the war. Teoh when she was young lived with the Magnus Pretorius and his wife Emily and their nephew, Frederik. The Pretorius family owned the Mujuba Tea Estate and had many natives working for them. Aritomo lived on the property because he and Magnus were friends when younger.

Much of the story involves Japanese gardening with a strange twist to the Japanese art of tattoo called horimono, a tattoo which covers much of the body. A man who is interested in Aritomoto's wood carvings comes to visit Teoh and tells her that Aritomoto was also a horimono artist which she already knows because her back has been tattooed by him. However, she has never told anyone of this.

The story is interesting, but at times tends to drag somewhat. Much happens, complicated: war, Japanese gardens, tattoos, tea, prison camp. ( )
  maryreinert | May 4, 2015 |
This book really fell flat for me . . . it had beautifully written passages, but ultimately I felt there was something just too contrived and "precious" about it. The main character is the sole survivor of a WWII Japanese prison camp in what was British Malaysia; her lifelong grief and quest to honor the memory of her sister (who did not survive) frames the narrative. ( )
  LizHD | Mar 25, 2015 |
A brutal story of murder rape and revenge, characterised by embittered exiles in war torn Asia, or a beautiful story of memory, loss and rediscovery, through the making of a Japanese garden under the tutelage of an artist and master with a foot in the Floating World. When I chose this book for my book club to read I was influenced by reviews that describe the book as haunting, exquisite, lyrical and a magical experience and so I was a little unprepared for the violence that permeates this story; it made me wonder if modern day readers are so inured by violence on their TV screens that it fades into the background when it is thrust into their consciousness by a novel such as The Garden of Evening Mists.

The hero of this story is the tired old trope of an inscrutable master from an eastern culture who takes under his wing a pupil who learns to appreciate beauty and love(sex) through his harsh but patient tutelage. Aritomo is the Japanese master gardener and tattoo artist that floats through this novel and seems to have a presence that can charm all around him (even the communist insurgents that are killing nearly everybody else). His pupil is Yun Ling a survivor of a Japanese internment death camp and it is she who tells the (her) story in the first person. It is no surprise that the author Tan Twan Eng is male, because Yun Ling is so totally unconvincing, however Tan Twan Eng covers his tracks brilliantly by having her suffer from a disease that is eating away at her memory while she tells her story.

Yes we are in fantasy land here, but I think Tan Twan Eng wants us to believe his story, because he anchors it with real events for example the killing of Sir Henry Gurney in 1951, the British colonial administrator who was ambushed by communist insurgents in Malaya. Historical fiction given a veneer of realism that I find just a little false.

OK these are just my thoughts on an extensively reviewed novel here on LT. Read other reviews for an appreciation of a beautifully written book that is imaginative and well paced. Themes of loss and memory, of coming to terms with a violent past and a present that seems to be shifting away from under us are thought provoking and well explored. The book has a seductive quality and I loved the descriptions of the making of the garden, but for goodness sake don’t take it all too seriously. 3.5 stars. ( )
1 vote baswood | Feb 6, 2015 |
Showing 1-5 of 60 (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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