Guest blogger: Jo @ Not All Those Who Wander Are Lost
The Garden of Evening Mists by Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng is beautiful, haunting and deeply moving. It has very deservedly been long-listed for the Man Booker Prize 2012, as was the author’s first novel The Gift of Rain in 2007.
This is the story of Teoh Yun Ling, the second woman judge to be appointed to the Malaysian Supreme Court. Retiring from the bench after 14 years of service she decides to record her experiences as a young woman while she can still remember them.
The only survivor of a Japanese slave labour camp in which she was interned at the age of 17 during the Second World War, her hatred of the Japanese and grief and guilt for her sister who did not survive are the defining aspects of her life in the following years.
Six years after she leaves the slave labour camp, she travels to Yugiri ‘the only Japanese garden in Malaya.’ Here she attempts to put aside her hatred of the Japanese to seek the assistance of the former gardener of the Japanese Emperor, Nakamora Aritomo in designing the Japanese garden her sister had dreamed of building. He refuses to design it for her, but offers to take Yun Ling on as an apprentice so she can learn the skills required to create the memorial garden herself. Studying the Japanese Art of Setting Stones with Aritomo in the Garden of Evening Mists she is in the shadow of another war, as communist terrorists fight for independence from British rule. However she finds she is learning far more than just the art of Japanese garden design.
As Yun Ling sets down her memories on paper, she discovers there may have been more to Nakamura Aritomo than she had known. Can she piece everything together before it is too late? Is she able to at last find the peace she has sought for so long?
Starting off slowly, the story becomes more and more gripping the further you get into it. At times disturbing – primarily because you know the events are based in fact, the strength and resilience of the human spirit to overcome the atrocities that can be inflicted on it make it an uplifting and inspiring read.
I loved this book. It is a fascinating insight into the period of the second World War and the years following it in Malaya (now Malaysia). This is an area of history of which I knew little before, but of which I have now become particularly interested. The imagery is very strong – at times you could believe you were in the jungle too. All characters have so many layers to them that you feel they must actually exist somewhere. It has made me want to read more of Tan Twan Eng’s writing, so his first book The Gift of Rain is on my ‘to read’ list.
I would definitely recommend this book and have high hopes that it could go on to win this year’s Man Booker Prize.
The Garden of Evening Mists is published by Myrmidon Books and is currently available in trade paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review and to Jo for reading and reviewing for me!