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The Garden of Evening Mists

by Tan Twan Eng

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,2979210,829 (4.1)1 / 489
"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)
  1. 00
    The Gift of Rain by Tan Twan Eng (M_Clark)
    M_Clark: The Gift of Rain is the first book by Tan Twan Eng and is actually much better than The Garden of Evening Mists
  2. 00
    The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro (CGlanovsky)
  3. 00
    Black Oxen by Elizabeth Knox (lottpoet)
  4. 00
    The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai (CGlanovsky)
    CGlanovsky: Non-linear storytelling. Post-colonial novel. Deals with a period of political unrest.
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» See also 489 mentions

English (90)  German (1)  All languages (91)
Showing 1-5 of 90 (next | show all)
It has been a long time since I can devote a whole day to a book, or… it has been a long time since a book engages me to a degree that I absolutely had to devote my whole day to it. It also has been a couple months since I “read” a book, as I have “listened” to books more often than not.

The main narrative in this book is the atrocities committed by the Japanese on the occupied Asian territories during WWII – a subject that seems to be getting more headlines in the past few years – but it certainly is about more than that. How does one keep on living after experiencing a labour camp? How does one honor the memories of those that died?

On an exchange between two characters which I am paraphrasing here, a survivor of an English labour camp from the Boer War states that: “The war did not kill me, the concentration camp did not kill me, but hate to what was done to me would certainly had me killed if I didn’t let go of it”. But then, how does one find redemption for the personal choices that were made? How does one forgive an individual when one hates the ethnical group and political alliances that this individual once defended? How does one forgive oneself for the choices made in order to survive?

A lot of questions, and not easy answers… Beautifully written though. Highly recommended!
( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
Synopsis (from publisher's website):

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?
  KateBaxter | Mar 24, 2021 |
"On a mountain above the clouds, in the central highlands of Malaya lived the man who had been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan."

I always enjoy being transported to a new environment or historical setting that is unfamiliar: this Booker nominated novel does both. Tan Twan Eng's second novel takes us to 1980's Malaysia as Yun Ling, a former survivor of the Japanese forced labor camp, has just retired as a revered judge and decides to return to the garden of her younger days on a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands. She is suffering from aphasia and fears her memories and her intellect will soon be fading. "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." Her final wishes are to restore the garden created by Aritimo, the man in the first line of the novel, and to write down her memories.

The narrative moves through three different time periods: during WWII, during the 50's after Yun Ling worked for the war crimes commission and begins her apprenticeship with Aritimo at Yugiri, and then in the 80s when she returns to write her memoir. There's a lot to learn here, including the forced labor camps, the serenity of the Japanese garden, the Malayan Emergency, tea plantations, tattooing, the treatment of the South Africans at the hand of the British, and the mystery of the Golden Lily. Superimposed on all of these topics is some beautiful writing, especially when it comes to the art of Aritimo ,the creation of his garden. "The garden has to reach inside you. It should change your heart, sadden it, uplift it. It has to make you appreciate the impermanence of everything in life,” I say. “That point in time just as the last leaf is about to drop, as the remaining petal is about to fall; that moment captures everything beautiful and sorrowful about life. ‘Mono no aware,’ the Japanese call it.”
So enjoy. I will definitely look into this author's other work, The Gift of Rain.

Some lines:

In the shallows, a gray heron cocked its head at me, one leg poised in the air, like the hand of a pianist who had forgotten the notes to his music.

“What is gardening but the controlling and perfecting of nature?”

And yet it was only in the carefully planned and created garden of Yugiri that I had found a sense of order and calm and even, for a brief moment of time, forgetfulness.

Once I lose all ability to communicate with the world outside myself, nothing will be left but what I remember. My memories will be like a sandbar, cut off from the shore by the incoming tide. In time they will become submerged, inaccessible to me. The prospect terrifies me.

The memory of a museum in Tokyo I visited ten years ago comes back to me. The museum was famous for its collection of tattoos. They were of various sizes and age, sealed and preserved inside glass frames. I had walked among the hangings on the walls, looking at the faded ink on human skin, repelled and, at the same time, fascinated.

“Shakkei?” “Borrowed Scenery.” “Borrowed? I don’t understand.” There were four ways of doing it, he explained: enshaku—distant borrowing—took in the mountains and the hills; rinshaku used the features from a neighbor’s property; fushaku took from the terrain; and gyoshaku brought in the clouds, the wind and the rain.

The noise of insects sizzled in the air, like fat in a smoking wok.

“Opium.” Magnus answered his own question. “Opium from the East India Company’s fields in Patna and Benares. Sold to China to counter the loss of silver from England’s treasury. And so the Celestial Kingdom became a nation of opium addicts, all because of our desire for tea.” “You’re talking rot,” Aldrich said. “Oh? You English went to war with China twice—twice—to defend your right to sell opium. Look in the history books—they’re called the Opium Wars, in case you miss them.”

Two years later, in the last weeks of 1941, Japanese troops landed on the northeast coast of Malaya, fifteen minutes after midnight and an hour before Pearl Harbor was attacked. People think that Japan entered the war through Pearl Harbor, but Malaya was the first door they smashed open.

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.

Before me lies a voyage of a million miles, and memory is the moonlight I will borrow to illuminate my way. ( )
  novelcommentary | Jan 29, 2021 |
I made it halfway before I gave up. I'm a gardener, so this should have been interesting to me, but I was bored the whole time. Time to move on. ( )
  pmichaud | Dec 21, 2020 |
Ah, this is one of those books that you come across that stop you dead in your tracks and take you somewhere else completely. You wish there were more of these books in your life but sadly there aren’t, so when one comes along you just slow right down and relish every moment.

There should be 2 scales to reviewing books, like an x axis and a y axis. One axis for engagement, and another for involvement. One for the head and another for the heart.

I like detective novels and have read a lot that I give 5 stars for engagement. But they don’t rate more than 2 stars (if that) on the emotional scale.

Then there are books like The Fault In Our Stars that get 5 stars on the emotional scale but on the other scale they are no more than 3 stars.

All that rambling is the preamble to saying that this book scores tops on both scales. It is the best fiction that I have read in a long time. Simply that. ( )
  Ken-Me-Old-Mate | Sep 24, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 90 (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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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Tan Twan Engprimary authorall editionscalculated
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.
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?
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

"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.

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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?
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