Review

The Garden of Evening Mists

by Tan Twan Eng

From the author whose THE GIFT OF RAIN was a finalist for the 2008 Man Booker Prize comes THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS, a novel about the memories of a woman who leaves her seat on the Supreme Court in Kuala Lumpur and her attempts to return a childhood sanctuary to its rightful place in her heart and the community around her.

Yun Ling Teoh took the experience of internment at a slave-labor camp during the Japanese Occupation of Malaysia, six years before the start of World War II, and made something significant of her life. But the horrors she saw from a child’s-eye view return to shape the future of her career, as well as the retirement she so strongly looks forward to enjoying.

"THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS is a beautiful, heartfelt and compelling tale that completely transports you into a time and place and a heart that you probably know nothing about, but will feel like it’s home when you are through."

As children, Yun Ling and her sister spent their time in the internment camp recalling the beauty of the Japanese gardens in Kyoto. As they explain to each other, in greater and greater depth, the elements that make these spaces so spiritually uplifting and calming, they find a way to survive their rough realities. It is with this same hope that Yun Ling returns to the gardens when her life on the bench is over.

She wishes to create such a garden in her sister’s memory and asks Nakamura Aritomo, the exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan, to help her in this quest. Aritomo, a woodblock artist, is also the architect of the only Japanese garden in all of Malaysia. It is through an uneasy apprenticeship with him that she finds an opportunity to explore another side of her life, one that she hopes to put to rest with the creation of something beautiful.

The story goes on to a time when Yun Ling returns to this original triumph and has to create the gardens to their once-perfect state. Having suffered under the fighting of communist guerrillas as they wrested control of the country away from Biritsh colonizers, the garden is in a state of disrepair and Yun Ling must set it right. It is, of course, a very poetic metaphor for the way she needs to set things right for her late sister, for her country and for herself.

Survival is front and center in THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS. With Yun Ling’s fight against the tyranny that has always threatened her own security,  the idea that humans can persevere against the greatest of evils resonates like a new story, although it is a concept as old as humans themselves.

Tan Twan Eng is a superior storyteller, marching us back and forth between very different eras of civilization and using beauty as the portal through which we come back to the most important ideas of his novel: dignity, truth and beauty will always raise their heads against the uglier parts of life, regardless of the circumstances. THE GARDEN OF EVENING MISTS is a beautiful, heartfelt and compelling tale that completely transports you into a time and place and a heart that you probably know nothing about, but will feel like it’s home when you are through.

Reviewed by Jana Siciliano on October 26, 2012

The Garden of Evening Mists
by Tan Twan Eng

  • Publication Date: September 4, 2012
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Paperback: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Weinstein Books
  • ISBN-10: 1602861803
  • ISBN-13: 9781602861800