The Garden of Evening Mists, Paperback

The Garden of Evening Mists Paperback

4.5 out of 5 (4 ratings)


SHORTLISTED FOR THE MAN BOOKER PRIZE 2012. Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambrige and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child.

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 Kuala Lumpur, 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 her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day.

But the Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery.

Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan?Why is it that Yun Ling's friend and host Magnus Praetorius, seems to almost immune from the depredations of the Communists?

What is the legend of 'Yamashita's Gold' and does it have any basis in fact? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?




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Review by
The imminent rain in the air smelt crisp and metallic, as though it had been seared by the lightning buried in the clouds. The scent reminded me of the time in the camp, when my mind had latched onto the smallest, most inconsequential thing to distract myself: a butterfly wafting from a patch of scrub, a spiderweb tethered to twigs by strands of silk, sieving the wind for insects. – from The Garden of Evening Mists, page 100 -Teoh Yun Ling has retired from her profession as a judge and returned to the mountains of Malaya forty years after having been imprisoned by the Japanese during WWII. On the edge of the rain forest, beneath the mists of the mountain, and beside the rolling hills of a tea plantation she writes a story before her memory fades because Yun Ling has been diagnosed with a devastating illness, primary progressive aphasia, which will steal her memories and her language. Yun Ling’s story is a complex one. It is the story of captivity at the hands of brutal soldiers and the loss of her sister. It is about her desire to honor her sister’s memory with a garden crafted by the former gardener of the Emperor of Japan, a man named Nakamura Aritomo who is dignified, talented and mysterious. It is about the year she spends with Aritomo as his apprentice, physically laboring in his amazing garden as their relationship grows more intimate. It is about the impact of war – first the war in the Pacific, and then the Malayan Emergency. But most importantly, it is about finding oneself again, teasing through memories long buried and discovering the secrets that lie just below the surface.He turned to me, touching the side of his head lightly. At that moment it struck me that he was similar to the boulders on which we had spent the entire morning working. Only a small portion was revealed to the world, the rest was buried deep within, hidden from view. – from The Garden of Evening Mists, page 99 -Tan Twan Eng’s second novel is an alluring one, filled with exquisite description of the Malayan countryside against the backdrop of violence.The days here opened from beyond one set of mountains and ended behind another, and I came to think of Yugiri as a place lodged somewhere in a crease between daybreak and sunset. – from The Garden of Evening Mists, page 109 -Yun Ling’s inner struggle to come to terms with the trauma (both physical and emotional) which she endured at the hands of the Japanese is illuminated through a narrative which moves back and forth in time between the 1940s when Yun Ling is a child, to 1950 when she returns to Malaya as a young adult, and many years later when Yun Ling is an older woman. Yun Ling’s voice carries the reader through several important historical events:-The Second Sino-Japanese War (July 7, 1937 – September 2, 1945)-The Japanese Invasion of Malaya (also called the Battle of Kota Bharu) which began December 8, 1941 before the attack on Pearl Harbor (this is the period of time when Yun Ling is captured and held as a prisoner by the Japanese).-The Malayan Emergency which was a guerrilla war fought between Commonwealth armed forces and the Malayan National Liberation Army (the military arm of the Malayan Communist Party) from 1948 to 1960.The central themes in the novel is that of memory – how memory can be healing and how it can change with time. Yun Ling’s memories of her time in captivity are ones she has worked most of her life to forget. But now she is facing the loss of all her memories, and she is struggling to remember.I have become a collapsing star, pulling everything around it, even the light, into an ever-expanding void. – from The Garden of Evening Mists, page 33 -Eng uses the garden with its hidden secrets and surprising twists and views, as a metaphor for memory. Aritomo uses the concept of shakkei – a way of borrowing the landscape and other elements to enhance the beauty of the garden – and Yun Ling makes the connection between this style of gardening to that of memory:‘A garden borrows from the earth, the sky, and everything around it, but you borrow from time,’ I said slowly. ‘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 your reach.’ – from The Garden of Evening Mists, page 153 -This idea of memory as elusive and related to the natural world permeates the novel.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. – from The Garden of Evening Mists, page 309 -Other themes explored in the book are recovery from trauma, nationalism, and the impact of war on individuals.Eng’s prose is often dreamlike and elegant. His shifts in narrative allow for the reader to discover Yun Ling’s inner journey and adds complexity to the other characters who are uncovered gradually through Yun Ling’s memories of them and the events which unfurl.The Garden of Evening Mists is a quiet novel at times with the action being more about Yun Ling’s inner growth and dawning perceptions of Aritomo. But there are also some graphic descriptions of the violence which rocked this region. When Yun Ling takes the reader back to the years of her captivity, I found it hard to catch my breath.Eng’s writing is gorgeous. He demonstrates a deep understanding about how events shape our lives and how the natural world is intricately enmeshed with who we are as humans. He also understands the complexity of people – the multiple layers which make up our lives and the hidden secrets we all carry.The Garden of Evening Mists is a literary treat. Readers who love literary fiction will find themselves pulled into this introspective and exquisitely written novel.Highly recommended.
Review by

"For what is a person without memories?".I had heard so much positive feedback about this book that I was thrilled when my book group chose it as this month's read. Unfortunately I didn't really click with the narrative. I found it rather disjointed, with several names used for each character, a lack of continuity and an inconclusive ending. In spite of this I will admit to enjoying some wonderful moments within the book.The narrator is Yun Ling Teoh, who has survived as prisoner of the Jaspanese on Malaysia during WWII. She became a judge to bring justice for the many victims, but is now succuming to a degenerative disease and must leave her job. She determines to fulfil a promise she made to her older sister many years before.Her sister loved the beautiul simplicity of Japanese gardens and so Yun Ling approaches the exiled Japanese gardener, Arimoto, to design a garden in her sister's honour. Arimoto declines the commission but offers her an apprenticeship in his own garden.The garden was what I enjoyed most about this book, it had such a tranquil feel, I was wandering through it with the characters."He turned to me, touching the side of his head lightly. At that moment it struck me that he was similar to the boulders on which we had spent the entire morning working. Only a small portion was revealed to the world, the rest was buried deep from view. (Loc 1429).The other fascinating part of the book was the detail of the life in the concentration camp under the Japanese and the strange maze of tunnels that the prisoners were forever digging.Then, of course there was the cultural aspect, the tatoos, the wood block paintings and the archery.Thinking back, I wonder if I wouldn't enjoy this book more on a second reading, maybe one of these days I will tackle it again and upgrade my star rating.

Review by

A beautiful book. The use of language in this story will stay with me for a long time. This is a complex and multilayered story dealing with war, relationships, gardening and coming to terms (or not) with traumatic life events.

Review by

Teoh Yun Ling takes early retirement from her position as a Supreme Court Judge in the Malaysia of the 1980's to return to the garden of Yugiri in the Cameron Highlands: a place which had a pivotal role in her life but one that she had not visited for the last thirty-six years. A demanding and often abrasive woman, used to keeping lawyers in order from her position on the bench, Yun Ling is not easy to warm to: her one close friend is Frederik Pretorius, the South-African owner of the neighbouring Majuba Tea Estate. And it is to him that she discloses the true reason for her early retirement: she has been diagnosed with an incurable degenerative disease which means that soon she will start to lose her memories and the very faculty for language itself. Faced with the prospect of forgetting everything that makes her what she is, events that she has tried for most of the life to suppress come to the surface, in particular her time in a Japanese prison camp during the Second World War, a camp in which her older sister died, and from which Yun Ling was the only survivor.The book focuses on Yun Long's first visit to the Cameron Highlands in 1951, when she first visited the garden of Yugiri. Created by Nakamura Arimoto, a Japanese man who was once a gardener to the Emperor, it is a traditional Japanese garden created in the Highlands of Malaya. Yun Ling travels to the Highlands to ask Aritomo to design a garden in memory of her dead sister, who had been a lover of Japanese gardens, but her hatred of the Japanese make their first dealings very difficult. Initially turning down her request, Aritomo then proposes that Yun Ling become his apprentice until the monsoon starts so that she will be able to develop her garden herself. And this is what she does, living alone despite the threat of the communist insurgency which is raging in the Malayan countryside. And as the older Yun Ling looks back upon her time in the garden so many years ago, she starts to remember and to consider the true meaning of the events in her life, both from the time spent in the garden, and from her time as a prisoner of the Japanese.This is a beautiful book, which has a very appropriate 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 deathand it is the human desire to both remember and to forget that is at the heart of this book.I found great interest in the setting as well as the story, as it dealt with a location and period that I knew little about: Malaya (as it then was) during and after the Second World War. While I suppose I was reasonably familiar with the fall of Singapore to the Japanese and its aftermath for the British prisoners of war, including women and children, I'd never really considered the situation for non-British inhabitants of the area. And I certainly knew nothing of the communist insurgency after the war. (Mr SandDune of course did, and proceeded to give me a brief description of it, and its knock-on effect on the Vietnamese War)So my first five star read of the year: one which I think I could read again and again and continue to see connections which I had missed at first. I'd strongly recommend this to anyone who hasn't already read it.