The Garden Of Evening Mists
By Tan Twan Eng
Myrmidon Books, 2012
I am starting my blogs with a book that I wasn’t particularly looking forward to reading; not quite my cup of tea, so to speak. Set in the Far East, an area I know very little about, a subject matter of gardens that I equally knew little about, and a period of history that can often make uncomfortable reading. Add to all these things that were not going for this book, the fact that I struggle with the idea of a new author to me, this book was doomed from the start. How wrong on every level I was!
Set in the mountains of Malaysia, soon after the Second World War, the story is about a girl, Teoh Yun Ling, who has to face her demons by asking the acknowledged leader in the field of ornamental garden design for help. That help is for a memorial to her sister, who had died in a prisoner of war camp, run by the Japanese. The trouble follows in that the designer, Aritomo, is both the previous gardener for the Japanese Emperor, and a stubborn sort who won’t build the garden, but will take on Teoh Yun Ling as an apprentice to teach her how to build her own. When the fact that Teoh Yun Ling has spent the last years prosecuting the war criminals is put into the mix, we are entwined in a text that suggests hatred, vengeance, determination and empathy.
The Malaysian revolution is next added to the plot, and intrigue introduced to the text. The immediate dislike for Aritomo begins to be replaced with curiosity and a certain amount of sympathy. The conclusion of the tale will have to be read, rather than me giving the ending away, but I will offer the following...
There is an underlying threat that runs throughout the text, and a sense of danger is never far away. As with all well written books, one will either like or dislike each character. But be prepared to have that impression questioned and changed; that is not to say that everybody turns out to be a ‘goodie’. As for the garden, and its design, it is an important element to the story, but rather than it getting in the way, it is very easy to get involved with its progress, and all the things that happen concerning it.
In conclusion, I have had my eyes opened to a period of history I knew very little about, I now know a bit more about a geography I knew little about and all told in an exciting, vibrant way by an author that I knew very little about. A great read, I am looking forward to his next offering, while looking out for his previous work, ‘The Gift of Rain’
BookerBookBloke verdict: 8/10