BookBrowse Reviews The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Garden of Evening Mists

by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

     Not Yet Rated
  • Paperback:
    Sep 2012, 352 pages

  • Rate this book


Book Reviewed by:
Poornima Apte

Buy This Book

About this Book

Reviews

BookBrowse:


In Tan Twan Eng's second novel, after The Gift of Rain, he continues to explore the harmony between the twin pillars of memory and forgetfulness, set against the backdrop of late 1980s Malaysia.

Early on in the evocative new novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, the protagonist Teoh Yun Ling comes across an arresting pair of statues in her friend's tea estate gardens. It is only fitting that one of them is Mnemosyne, the Greek goddess of memory. The other one, Teoh Yun Ling is told, is her twin, the goddess of forgetting. This vignette might well capture the premise of this fantastic novel by Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng - that we spend almost our entire lives trying to find harmony between the twin pillars of memory and forgetfulness.

It is the late '80s and Yun Ling, a prominent Supreme Court justice in independent Malaysia has just retired and moved back from Kuala Lumpur, the country's capital, to her home in the country's highlands. "Yun Ling has been recently diagnosed with aphasia and she retires so that she can document her past while she still has a fairly firm grip on her faculties. One of the most beautiful things in her past is Yugiri, the garden of evening mists, and Yun Ling works at documenting how this garden came into being. It was created by Nakamura Aritomo, an enigmatic Japanese man who once worked in his country's Imperial gardens. Aritomo is now long gone and the garden, bequeathed to Yun Ling, has sunk into neglect.

As Yun Ling gets the garden going and tries to sort out Aritomo's legacy, she is haunted by visions from her past when Malaysia, then a British colony, was invaded by the Japanese during the Second World War. In chapters that alternate rather abruptly between the present and the past, the reader witnesses Yun Ling's trauma as she and her older sister suffer the horrors of internment at the hands of the Japanese. Her sister didn't survive the ordeal, leaving Yun Ling with a profound sense of survivor's guilt which haunts this beautiful novel. At the end of the war, to honor the memory of her lost sister who loved Japanese gardens, Yun Ling took up a gardening apprenticeship with Aritomo. Yugiri became a living memorial to her sister.

Aritomo is escaping a troubled past of his own and, until almost the very end of the novel the Japanese gardener remains an enigmatic figure. He is a man of multiple passions - in addition to gardening, he is skilled at the Japanese arts of ukiyo-e (woodblock prints - see Beyond the Book) and horimono (tattoos). Eng expertly interweaves the story with thematic elements borrowed from all of these art forms.

The novel's focus isn't strictly on plot but instead on creating a kind of metaphorical "mist" that only gives glimpses of forgotten memories. Some might find the book slow-going as a result, but the immersive experience of terrific writing about time and place more than compensates. The book is so rich in evocative detail and so steeped in its sense of place that it is hard not to be swept along for the ride.

One of the many beautiful lessons The Garden of Evening Mists drives home is the relevance of art in our everyday lives. To both Aritomo and Yun Ling, art is a living, breathing tangible thing as represented by Yugiri. It brings a modicum of peace to their troubled lives. The connection between the beautiful garden and her own life is not lost on Yun Ling. She knows that just as a Japanese garden uses elements of shakkei, our memories do too. "A garden borrows from the earth, the sky and everything around it, but you borrow from time," Eng writes. "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 reach."

Tan Twan Eng's latest novel is proof that just like the ethereal mists that surround Yugiri, our memories too can shift forms and shape our present everyday lives. Great art helps by filling in the holes with broad yet elegant brushstrokes.

For a visual tour of the book, please visit my Pinterest board.

Reviewed by Poornima Apte

This review is from the October 17, 2012 issue of BookBrowse Recommends. Click here to go to this issue.



This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Beyond the Book:
  Ukiyo-e and its Place in Japan

One-Month Free Membership

Discover your next great read here

Join Today!

Editor's Choice


Book Discussion
Book Jacket
The Nest
by Cynthia D'Aprix Sweeney

A funny and acutely perceptive debut about four siblings and the fate of their shared inheritance.

About the book
Join the discussion!

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    The Stars Are Fire
    by Anita Shreve

    An exquisitely suspenseful novel about an extraordinary young woman tested by a catastrophic event.
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Manderley Forever
    by Tatiana de Rosnay

    Bestselling author Tatiana de Rosnay pays homage to Daphne du Maurier.
    Reader Reviews

Who Said...

They say that in the end truth will triumph, but it's a lie.

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!

Word Play

Solve this clue:

Y S M B, I'll S Y

and be entered to win..

Books that     
entertain,
     engage

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.

 
Modal popup -