The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

Just finished The Garden of Evening Mists which was a book I picked up as a result of this review here.

The GoEM starts with Yun Ling Teog retiring from her profession of Judge, she is suffering from a deterioration in her mental health which inspires her to record her memoirs.

During the Japanese occupation of Malaysia Yun Ling Teog and her sister were taken prisoner and held in a prison camp set in the jungle.  Yun Ling was the only survivor and she wants to build a Japanese garden as a memorial to her sister.  After escaping the camp Yun Ling returns to her uncle’s tea plantation in order to try and persuade her uncle’s close friend, Aritomo, a former gardener to the Emperor of Japan, to help her build this memorial.  He refuses however agrees to take Yun Ling as his apprentice so that she can build her own garden.

I’m not going to go too much into the plot.  There are a number of secrets that will be revealed as the story unfolds.  We will eventually learn of how Yun Ling survived the horrors of the camp and also why Aritomo left Japan.  We will learn a little more about the Japanese occupation of Malaysia and the violence that continued even after the war ended as the communist rebels hiding in the hills committed brutal crimes against the residents.  But there is more than this.  Gardens, tattoos, hidden gold, spy intrigue, war, occupation, guerilla warfare, love.

This is a very evocative novel, moving and captivating.  Told in different timeframes and revealing more to the original relationships than at first meets the eye.  On top of that, I suppose ultimately this is a book of forgiveness.  There is a love story here but it’s very subtle and understated and what I really took from it was the way that Yun Ling was able to move on from her own personal experiences and have a relationship with Aritomo.

I think the only criticism that I had was I found Yun Ling very detached and almost cold which made it a bit more difficult to connect with her, but I assume that this was deliberate on the part of the author to reflect how Yun Ling had withdrawn into herself as a result of the horrors she experienced whilst in the camp.

This is a very intriguing story.  It’s really almost poetic.  But, if you’re expecting a fast paced novel then this might not be the one for you.  There is plenty of information contained here and clearly the author has researched this well but it’s a subtle reveal – in fact I’m sure that I’ve probably missed certain aspects of this but I think this is one of the things about this story and I imagine that people who read it will likely come away with differing experiences.

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4 Responses to “The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng”

  1. TBM

    It took me some time to get used to her personality, but given her story I tried to overlook her aloofness. It’s odd because you mention so many of the subplots and it’s hard to pass over them completely and to be sucked in by the language. I remember the subplots, but I remember the images more if that makes sense.

    • lynnsbooks

      That’s what I mean about this book. I really think that different readers will have a different experience from each other. I must admit that I’m very story centric so I always look for the plot really when I’m doing a review. There is a lot going on though and much more than you originally realise. It took me quite some time to write this review and yet it’s only fairly brief and barely scratches the surface really.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Rachel Bradford

    This was one of my favorite books last year. It took me a long time to read because it had a few slow sections – but it was pretty powerful in the end! I’m glad you liked it.

    • lynnsbooks

      I think you’re right – there was definitely a feeling of slowness to the earlier sections in particular but I did feel this was a very worthwhile book to read. I enjoyed reading about the different culture and history and will definitely pick up this author’s earlier book.
      Lynn 😀

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