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The Garden of Evening Mists Paperback – Bargain Price, September 4, 2012
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“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.”
“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.”
“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
“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.”
"Beautifully written...Eng is quite simply one of the best novelists writing today."
"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."
"“Beautifully written…Eng is quite simply one of the best novelists writing today."
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. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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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. The Japanese, the Chinese Maoists, Chiang Kai-shek's troops, and an aboriginal culture, the Orang Asli, all attacked civilians in Malaya during a ten-year period. Captured by the Japanese during the war, Yun Ling is the only person there to survive the work camp, but how she does remains a mystery for much of the novel. Other mysteries involving Aritomo and her neighbors at a tea plantation, also keep the interest high. While Yun Ling is planning her restoration of Yangiri, she also allows Professor Yoshikawa Tatsuji to come from Japan to study thirty-six, never-before-seen ukiyo-e prints made by Aritomo and bequeathed to her. Aritomo was as skilled at ukiyo-e as he was with garden design, both art forms being governed by balance and harmony, and a sense of proportion and unity, the complete opposite of warfare.
The Garden of Evening Mists is an unusually ambitious novel, and its focus on Japanese art forms elevates it beyond the horrors of war. I did find the novel a bit difficult to get into, however. The beginning develops slowly as the author introduces a number of characters from three different time frames, all with unusual names that are a challenge for the reader to keep straight. In addition, the author may be trying a bit too hard, stylistically, in the first fifty or so pages, paying more attention to the old adage of using "lively" verbs and verb forms (a great many per page) than he does to the more important one of "keeping it simple." Once the author gains traction with his story, however, the overwritten passages disappear, and the novel becomes the elegant story of two unusual people dealing with war and the past and, more importantly, finding solace in art, creativity, and abiding values.