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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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886679,990 (4.14)1 / 412
Member:StaffPicks
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:Shelley's Picks, War, Malaya, Historical Fiction

Work details

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

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English (66)  Finnish (1)  All languages (67)
Showing 1-5 of 66 (next | show all)
3.5*

He touched the envelope on the table. ‘You mentioned that you worked as a researcher for the War Crimes Tribunal.’
‘I wanted to ensure that those who were responsible were punished. I wanted to see that justice was done.’
‘You think I am a fool? It was not all about justice.’
‘It was the only way that I would be allowed to examine the court documents and official records,’ I said. ‘I was searching for information about my camp. I wanted to find where my sister was buried.’
His eyes narrowed. ‘You didn’t know where your camp was located?’
‘We were blindfolded when the Japs – when the Japanese – transported us there. It was somewhere deep in the jungle. That was all we knew.’
‘The other survivors from your camp, what happened to them?’ A butterfly trembled over the cannas by the verandah. It finally alighted on a leaf, its wings closing together in prayer.
‘There were no other survivors.’

There was something really compelling about The Garden of Evening Mists, but despite what you might expect from the above quotation, it was not the plot. In fact, if the book had solely carried its message on the back of the plot, I would not have enjoyed this at all. On the face of it, the plot seems about the atrocities of war, the destruction of peoples lives by it, as well as the damage that is caused by hatred and the longing for revenge, and how difficult it is to not just survive, but live, having experienced all of this.

‘They couldn’t kill me when we were at war. And they couldn’t kill me when I was in the camp,’ he said finally, his voice subdued. ‘But holding on to my hatred for forty-six years . . . that would have killed me.’

I should say, that the only reason that this would not have worked well for me as a plot because I would constantly wonder about the real life stories that the author may have been inspired by, and then would lose interest in fictional accounts of this if there are biographies that would give a factual account. What can I say, I like historical non-fiction.

However, as mentioned, there is more to the story - I really enjoyed that the book actually changes with every vignette that is disclosed to the reader. What appeared as fact, what I learned about the story and the characters, changes with every new revelation, so much like the chosen subject of the book:

‘Gardens like Yugiri’s are deceptive. They’re false. Everything here has been thought out and shaped and built. We’re sitting in one of the most artificial places you can find.’

On a related and similar note, the story also gives insight into parts of history that aren't usually the focus on popular novels. I loved this. While the main story is set in post-war Malaysia and the main character reflects back on the time of Malaya during the Japanese occupation, Tan Twan Eng also weaves in facts about the colonial regimes in both Malaya and South Africa, and the struggle of the Boers with the British. It's another aspect, or perspective that is reflected in the novels construct of the Garden - the characters describe historical facts by focusing the reader's attention on the characters' backstory, and it works.

‘Tominaga explained it to me,’ I said. ‘But I’ve only just really understood it now – the effect of seeing the view is much more powerful than if the sea has not been obstructed.’

The Garden of Evening Mists may not be the most in-depth work of historical fiction - much of the story is taken up by gardening and (way too much) discussions about gardening - but it makes up for it with vivid descriptions that transported me back to Tanah Rata and the surrounding Cameron Highlands, an area that I enjoyed exploring a few years ago. And of course, the mention of the local tea meant I needed to read the book with a cup close by. Book, tea, memories.

Before me lies a voyage of a million miles, and memory is the moonlight I will borrow to illuminate my way.


Cameron Highlands near Tanah Rata, where the novel is set.
( )
  BrokenTune | Aug 21, 2016 |
This book is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read! ( )
  judybooklady | Jun 29, 2016 |
Wonderful story that is beautifully written. I learned a lot about Malaysia to boot. ( )
  ltfitch1 | Jun 5, 2016 |
3.5 stars ( )
  .cris | May 31, 2016 |
The Garden of Evening Mists- Tan Eng
Audio version performed by Anna Bentinck

5 stars

“Memories I had locked away have begun to break free, like shards of ice fracturing off an arctic shelf. In sleep, these broken floes drift toward the morning light of remembrance.”


When Yun Ling first comes to Yugiri in the decade following World War Two she remembers her sister’s death and their three years in a Japanese death camp. When she returns to Yugiri 40 years later, she remembers Aritomo. Aritomo, once the Japanese emperor’s gardener, created Yugiri, the Garden of Evening Mists. The garden was designed and built before the war in the Camaron Highlands of Malaya. Yun Ling has spent most of her life trying to forget, but as her aging brain threatens to erase her memories forever, she begins to record her story.

This is an intricate, layered story that worked beautifully on every level. The prose is poetic and suited to the exotic location. As the story develops, it is filled with details about Japanese gardens, woodblock printing, and surprisingly, tattoos. The characters are flawed, complex, and very real. They are people who grapple with devastating loss, survivor guilt, divided loyalties, and dangerous secrets. In the end some of the secrets are revealed. Some of the truth will never be completely revealed. Despite the lack of definitive answers, the ending of the book felt entirely correct.

Anna Bentinck’s performance of this book was outstanding. She handled all of the character voices and accents perfectly. I was especially impressed that she was able to maintain a consistent voice for Yun Ling while perceptibly aging the voice for the different time periods of the narrative.

( )
  msjudy | May 30, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 66 (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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Wikipedia in English (1)

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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