Van has finished reading…The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

14 Mar

Recently retired, Judge Yun Ling Teoh is losing her memory. Returning to the highlands of Malaya and The Garden of Evening Mists, she recounts the promise she made to her sister, killed by the Japanese during the Occupation, and how it first brought her to the garden; how she became apprenticed to Aritomo, the garden’s creator and once gardener to the Emperor of Japan; how her history nestles in the secrets that shroud those of her country during that brutal time.

The effect incarceration had on Yun Ling is tangible. After what happened to her and her sister, her hatred of her captors is as vibrant as her anger at the politicians, the latter handicapping her in her quest for justice as effectively as the former in taming her during captivity. Seeing the story through the prism of age is the right choice, too, allowing room around the choices she made rather than scrabbling in the moment to try and explain them. It’s feels like a very graceful novel, quite spacious in its telling, and it’s as much about obfuscation as it is revelation. Truly terrible things happened in this history and Tan Twan Eng proves again that the giving of lurid detail is not necessary to convey the burden such experiences place on those involved.

 

The truth is I wanted to like this book more than I actually did. What I had in the end was closer to an appreciation of it. Like Aritomo’s garden, there are many points that echo or reflect others, themes weave through the understory, and there are moments that are lost to the descending mists. It’s not a thing I can be definite about but I do wonder whether Yun Ling’s closed-off nature (though understandably so) also affected to hold her distant from me as a reader. The Garden of Evening Mists is, for me, an engaging and immersive read. I can only hope that you’ll get that glimpse through to its secret heart that will make it shine.

 

The Garden of Evening Mists was published by Myrmidon in January 2012 ISBN 9781782110187

You can find Tan Twan Eng on his website, www.tantwaneng.com

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