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The Garden of Evening Mists Paperback – November 1, 2011

4.5 out of 5 stars 686 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


* An elegant and haunting novel of war, art and memory ... its beauty never comes to rest Independent * Complex and powerful ... sophisticated and satisfying Sunday Times * It is impossible to resist the opening sentence of this sumptuously produced novel ... It showcases Tan Twan Eng as a master of cultural complexities Guardian * Elegant and atmospheric The Times * 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" ... An elegant and haunting novel of war, art and memory Independent * A beautiful, dark and wistful exploration of loss and remembrance, that will stay with you long after reading Daily Telegraph * War, art and memory join in a subtle story, notable for its ravishing prose, glorious sense of place, and mature alertness to the deceptive vistas of history -- Boyd Tonkin Independent * With ravishing sensuousness, it conjures up the lush landscapes and tea estates of Malaya during the 1950s Emergency, as reflections on Japanese aesthetic refinements in gardening and art intersect with recollections of Japanese wartime atrocities in a haunting novel about memory -- Peter Kemp The Sunday Times * This beautifully written book is full of arresting images... Achieved with the seemingly effortless poise of a remarkable fictional artistry, Tan Twan Eng's winning novel will be prized by all those who cannot resist the mastery of language Good Book Guide * This book is to be kept and re-read and revered for its elegant, lyrical prose Red * The Garden of Evening Mists is an almost indescribably beautiful, rich and rewarding novel with multiple layers that are expertly weaved into a coherent work of art Library Thing * A good old-fashioned story with a plot that arcs gracefully, maintains suspense, and stays true to characterisation ... incredibly satisfying Asian Review of Books * 'Grace and empathy infuse this melancholy landscape of complex loyalties enfolded by brutal history, creating a novel of peculiar, mysterious, tragic beauty Kirkus Reviews * The layering of historical periods is intricate, the descriptions of highland Malaysia are richly evocative, and the characterisation is both dark and compelling. Guarding its mysteries until the very end, this is a novel of subtle power and redemptive grace -- Maya Jaggi, chair of the Man Asian judges * A richly engimatic, layered novel, which portrays the complexity of Malaya at the time, as well as the jaggedness of relationships, sensitively providing multiple glimpses of cultural identities Good Book Guide * Beautiful ... Delicate, sumptuous and delightful in its imagery and poetry of language ... this wonderful novel creates a landscape in the reader's imagination, rich in detail and tender in its telling Parent Talk --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

Tan Twan Eng was born in Penang but lived in various places in Malaysia as a child. He studied law through the University of London and later worked as lawyer in one of Kuala Lumpur's most reputable law firms. He also has a first-dan ranking in aikido and is a strong proponent for the conservation of heritage buildings. His debut novel, The Gift of Rain was long-listed for the ManBooker Prize. Tan Twan Eng lives in Cape Town where he is working on his third novel.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Myrmidon Books Ltd; 1st Edition Thus edition (November 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1905802625
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905802623
  • Product Dimensions: 6.9 x 1 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (686 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,857,620 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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