Sunday, 28 April 2019

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng


The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
First published in the UK by Myrmidon in 2012.

One of my WorldReads from Malaysia

How I got this book:
Received a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley

My rating: 5 of 5 stars



In the highlands of Malaya, a woman sets out to build a memorial to her sister, killed at the hands of the Japanese during the brutal Occupation of their country. Yun Ling's quest leads her to The Garden of Evening Mists, and to Aritomo, a man of extraordinary skill and reputation, once the gardener of the Emperor of Japan. When she accepts his offer to become his apprentice, she begins a journey into her past, inextricably linked with the secrets of her troubled country's history.

The Garden Of Evening Mists began by thwarting my assumptions which is always a good way for a novel to capture my interest. It was so long since I had read the synopsis that I forgotten everything except its post-war Malaysia setting (or Malaya as it was then). So I envisaged Judge Teoh making his way to his retirement celebration only to be brought up short when She arrived! Tut tut me assuming a judge would be male!

Tan Twan Eng has created an absolutely beautiful novel here. I loved his delicate turns of phrase in describing the incredible natural Malaysian landscapes as well as the deliberate beauty of the eponymous garden. This garden is designed according to Japanese teachings and I felt the whole story reflected Japanese style. Its theme of cultural conflict takes many forms from the obvious of the austere garden on a lush mountainside, to the aftermath of the Japanese army's horrific acts against the Malaysian-Chinese population during the Second World War. Much of Teoh's post-war is an attempt to come to terms with her treatment during those war years and, while Tan steers clear of overtly graphic detail, we readers are left in no doubt as to what Teoh and her sister endured. She narrates in two timelines being desperate to remember her personal history before disease takes her memory forever.

Tan writes brilliantly for a female narrator and I never had any doubt that I was reading a woman's words. I also appreciated the diversity of his cast of characters. Malaya at this time was a fervent melting pot of cultures on the brink of shaking off British colonial rule so we not only see the aftermath of the war, but also the guerrilla struggles to establish an independent future. So many narrative threads should have made The Garden Of Evening Mists a complicated novel, but it actually has a real clarity of vision and portrayal. And it's just beautiful!

Etsy Find!
by ZC Bazaar in
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Books by Tan Twan Eng / Historical fiction / Books from Malaysia

6 comments:

  1. I had one of those telling moments the other day when a nurse was called 'he' in the story and I realized my assumption before I knew. :)

    But, this sounds just lovely. I've not read a story set in Malaysia and I do enjoy WWII fiction so I'll have to look this one up. The writing style, the way you describe it, sounds fabulous with him capturing the female character and her thoughts like that.

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    1. I did have high hopes for this one and the novel absolutely lived up to them!

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  2. From the setting to the writing this sounds wonderful Stephanie.

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    1. It is wonderful! A novel which I was sorry to finish

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  3. I would love to read this one and to visit the Malaysian setting. And it sounds like the setting and time period are captured so well in these words, and that the female voice was so believable. Wonderful.

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    1. This was pretty much a perfect novel for me, and if you're going to visit this beautiful part of Malaysia I want to go too!

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