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The Garden of Evening Mists Paperback – September 4, 2012

4.5 out of 5 stars 673 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


The Independent
“The Garden of Evening Mists
offers action-packed, end-of-empire storytelling in the vein of Tan’s compatriot Tash Aw. His fictional garden cultivates formal harmony –but also undermines it. It unmasks sophisticated artistry as a partner of pain and lies. This duality invests the novel with a climate of doubt; a mood – as with Aritomo’s creation – of “tension and possibility”. Its beauty never comes to rest.”

Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (UK)
“A rising star from Malaysia . . . Tan writes with breath-catching poise and grace. [The Garden of Evening Mists is a novel of] linguistic refinement and searching intelligence. . . . But for all its mission to ‘capture stillness on paper’. . . The Garden of Evening Mists also offers action-packed, end-of-empire storytelling.”

Dominique Browning, The New York Times Book Review
“[A] strong quiet novel [of] eloquent mystery.”

“The unexpected relationship between a war-scarred woman and an exiled gardener leads to a journey through remorse to a kind of peace. After a notable debut, Eng (The Gift of Rain, 2008) returns to the landscape of his origins with a poetic, compassionate, sorrowful novel set in the aftermath of World War II in Malaya…Grace and empathy infuse this melancholy landscape of complex loyalties enfolded by brutal history, creating a novel of peculiar, mysterious, tragic beauty.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
“As intricately designed as a Japanese garden, this deceptively quiet novel resonates with the power to inspire a variety of passionate emotions…A haunting novel certain to stay with the reader long after the book is closed.”
Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
“Like his debut, The Gift of Rain (2007), Tan’s second novel is exquisite…Tan triumphs again, entwining the redemptive power of storytelling with the elusive search for truth, all the while juxtaposing Japan’s inhumane war history with glorious moments of Japanese art and philosophy. All readers in search of spectacular writing will not be disappointed.”

Philadelphia Inquirer
"Beautifully written...Eng is quite simply one of the best novelists writing today."
Starred Kirkus
"Grace and empathy infuse this melancholy lanscape of complex loyalties enfolded by brutal history, creating a novel of peculiar, mysterious, tragic beauty."

New York Times
"A strong quiet novel [of] eloquent mystery."
Philadelphia Inquirer
"“Beautifully written…Eng is quite simply one of the best novelists writing today."

About the Author

Tan Twan Eng was born in Penang, Malaysia, but lived in various places in Malaysia as a child. He worked as an Intellectual Property lawyer before resigning from his position to write his novel, The Gift of Rain. His second novel, "The Garden of Evening Mists," will be published in the United Kingdom in February 2012.
"The Gift of Rain" was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Romanian, Czech and Serbian.
Tan Twan Eng lives in Cape Town where he is working on his third novel.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Weinstein Books; Original edition (September 4, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1602861803
  • ISBN-13: 978-1602861800
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (673 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #18,377 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Mary Whipple HALL OF FAMETOP 1000 REVIEWER on September 8, 2012
Format: Paperback
(4.5 stars) Setting this unusual, aesthetically intriguing, and often exciting novel in Malaya/Malaysia, author Tan Twan Eng provides insights into the Japanese Occupation of Malaya from 1941 - 1945, while recreating the horrors visited upon the local population. At the same time, he also illustrates the formal aesthetic principles which underlie Japanese gardens, ukiyo-e (woodblock) prints, and the long tradition of Japanese tattooing. Amazing as it may sound, Tan succeeds in producing an elegant blend of these seemingly incompatible subjects and themes while also appealing to the reader with characters who face personal tragedies and strive, somehow, to endure.

When the novel opens, sometime around 1989, Judge Teoh has just retired from her work on the Supreme Court in Kuala Lumpur and returned to the central highlands where she spent many years from her early teens until her late twenties. Though she has not been there for thirty-four years, she is seeking her spiritual home, a garden called Yangiri, which means "Evening Mists." Nakamura Aritomo, whom she knew many years ago, spent fourteen years developing this special garden according to the principles set forth in Sakuteiki, a book written in the mid- to late eleventh century. Though the garden has not been tended for many years, Yun Ling (Teoh) is determined to restore its original beauty: first, to honor the memory of Aritomo, whom she originally despised for his connections to Japan, and second, to honor the memory of her sister, who did not survive the work camp to which they were both consigned during the Occupation.

As the novel shifts back and forth chronologically, often quite suddenly, the complex political dynamics of Malaya from 1940 - 1945, and the horrors of the Occupation and later Emergency are revealed.
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This story begins on the last day of Teoh Yun Ling's career as a Supreme Court justice in the Malaysian capital of Kuala Lumpur in the mid 1980s. Yun Ling has had, by every measure, a remarkable and successful life despite extreme hardship and loss. She was born to privilege, as a member of a wealthy Straits Chinese family, but at the age of 17 she and her older sister Yun Hong were captured by Japanese soldiers and taken to a prison camp hidden within the jungle of the Malayan Peninsula. The prisoners were brutally tortured there, and only one survived at the end of the war: Yun Ling.

After she completes her law studies in England, she returns to Malaysia to practice, serving as a prosecutor for the Malayan government in the trials of captured Japanese Army soldiers. Her sister's death continues to haunt her, and she decides to honor her sister's memory by building a Japanese garden, as Yun Hong loved them dearly. In 1951 she returns to the home of a family friend, Magnus Pretorius, a South African tea planter in Cameron Highlands in the Malayan state of Pahang, whose friend Nakamura Aritomo is a highly regarded gardener--and the former chief gardener to Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Yun Ling struggles to overcome her deep hatred of the Japanese, and works under Aritomo as an apprentice, helping him to rebuild his own garden while learning the craft from him.

However, the tranquil mountainous setting also hosts the Malayan National Liberation Army, a group of communist guerrilla soldiers who are at war with the colonial government during the Malayan Emergency.
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Format: Paperback
The novel takes place in Malaysia, primarily in a rural tea plantation, from the years of British domination through the Japanese invasion and on through the fight against a communist insurgency. Many of the main characters live long enough to see Malaysia gain independence, but by that time all are scarred by the endless brutality they have lived through.

None of the main characters are "native" Malays, a long running, though minor, theme of the book. Boers, Japanese, Straits Chinese, British, there is a hodgepodge of people who have settled in this outpost of the British empire, but of native Malays we hear almost nothing, except a few stereotypically evil commies who rape and murder their way across the countryside as supposedly communist guerillas. I found that odd and rather off-putting, but was able to put that aside and concentrate on the motley crew in and around the tea plantation.

Told as a first person narrative by a woman who, as the book opens, unexpectedly retires from her position as a justice on the Malay Supreme Court, she returns from Kuala Lumpur to the tea plantation. She tells the story of her life, and narrates lives others have told her, roughly from the year before the Japanese invasion until she leaves the tea plantation during the height of the communist insurgency. This is a time of almost ceaseless conflict, particularly during World War II when the British abruptly abandoned the entire peninsula to the Japanese. There followed a notorious invasion, dominance and enslavement throughout the entire area. The narrator was sent, along with her sister, to a slave labor camp where the narrator barely survived.
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