Short listed for the Man Booker Prize 2012.
Malaya, 1949. After a career spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh - herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp - seeks solace among the jungle fringed plantations of Northern Malaya. There she meets the enigmatic Aritomo, an exiled former gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Yun Ling asks Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister. But the jungle holds secrets of its own…
©2012 Tan Twan Eng (P)2012 W F Howes Ltd
A great book which makes the consequences of war and life under colonial rule for ordinary people very real. The South African accent slips quite a bit, but not enough to be distracting.
I have listened to half of this book. I dislike it. It is contrived and unbelievable. The book tries to do too much, and thus does nothing well. The characters do not pull you in; they stay there flat between the pages of the book.
IF you decide you DO want to read it, do not pick the audiobook narrated by Anna Bentinck!!!!! The book is set in three different time periods. This is more confusing in an audiobook than in a paper book. I do NOT like the narration. There are Chinese and Japanese characters. When all but one of them speaks, you will cringe. Ask yourself to mimic a Chinese person trying to speak English. THAT is what you have to listen to here. It may be typically correct, but it is ever so unpleasant.
Oh, and I keep falling asleep as I listen to this book! Some lines are poetic and beautiful, but essentially lulling. I have started over several times, but each time I fall asleep!
Then I got mad, and went back again. But it was so:
1. boring (I HAVE listened to this.)
2. and confusing (Which time period am I in now?)
3. and annoying (Ugh, must I listen to this pigeon-English?)
4. and contrived (Romance, hidden treasure, murder, internment camps, Communist terrorists....)
5. and unbelievable (Central figure, the sole survivor of a Japanese Internment camp, agrees to become an apprentice gardener to a famed Japanese gardener, the gardener of Emperor Hirohito! And the details make it even more unbelievable. She manages to lift huge stones, agrees to remove her gloves that protect her hands that were damaged in the camp so she can feel the e-a-r-t-h..... Yup, not only unbelievable, but melodramatic too. I forgot to mention the serious medical problem.)
So I am stubborn. I cannot just quit this book, can I? I went then to Wikipedia and looked it up. What is ahead of me? OMG, it is not going to get more believable. No, I cannot take this anymore! This book goes back to Audible! I LOVE that Audible lets you return books.
The good things: some pretty lines and a teeny bit taught about Japanese gardens. They ARE truly magnificent. Should I give this book two stars? How can I do that if I absolutely cannot finish it?!
"Wonderful text, narration problematic."
This lovely book is for the most part very well narrated.
However, there are a lot of characters where the narrator has decided to attempt accents. The Chinese and Japanese accents are eyebrow-raising, but the South African accent is shockingly bad, veering wildly between bad Dutch, bad New Zealand, some kind of weird growling and very occasionally a sentence that sounds approximately like a real South African accent.
This wouldn't be too bothersome except for the fact that there is a LOT of dialogue with the South African characters and it's incredibly distracting. Perhaps if you have never heard a South African accent before it won't bother you too much, but be warned - for anyone who knows the accent it may spoil your enjoyment of the book.
Apart from the accent problems the narrator has a beautiful voice and reads the text very well.
"The best listen of 2012"
This story works on so many levels. The writing is effortlessly evocative and graphically descriptive of the settings. It seamlessly weaves together a number of disparate themes; loss, war, gardening and tatooing and is thought provoking without hammering any message home. Characters leap from the page and live with you while you're not listening. I cannot rate the narration highly enough. Anna Bentinck is quite superb - she renders Far Eastern accents perfectly and even manages to convey the age of the main character at different stages of the story. Her tone and pace are perfect. If there was an audio oscar, she should receive it!
I don't understand why this didn't win the Booker prze. A beautifully crafted book which works on so many levels. Like a Japanese garden it drew me in until I was completely absorbed. This story of love, hate, loss, death and reconciliation doesn't shrink from the most compelling and harrowing revelations. Place and time weave in and out, held together by the calm and gentle pace of the text and the simple yet enchanting descriptions of the landscape. A book I will never forget. Also, the narration is superb. Anna Bentinck brings both the characters and the landscape vividly alive.
"Lovely evocative account of South East Asia"
Lovely evocative account of South East Asia - from the sounds and colours of the rainforest to the different cultures living alongside each other all wrapped into an interesting account of an unlikely friendship between a Japanese Prisoner of War and the Japanese Emporer's gardener.The unusual angle looking at the Japanese in Malaya in the war and the differing opinions of Brtish rule - from the Straits Chinese to the Africaans gave the story a different feel all together. Very well read as well
I enjoyed this book and for the most part loved the narration, but I do have to agree that the South African accent was AWFUL! Perhaps if an accent can not be captured correctly, it would be better not to try. I had to pretend the South African characters were some other strange species altogether, before I really began to enjoy the telling of this story.
"Deeply evocative, beautiful story"
The story takes place through three distinct time periods: Yun Ling's older character as a recently retired judge, her teenage self in the POW camp and her 30ish year old character living near the Cameron Mountains.
On first listening to the narration, it took me the first 6 chapters or so to fully engage with the story, at which point I then had to flick back in my paper copy (reading group) to check details. Following that I was absolutely hooked! I listen to audio books instead of the radio on the drive to work, yet found myself having to continue reading as soon as I walked through the front door.
The intimacy that Eng creates with the most subtle of character gestures and the evocative depictions of the landscape and scenery leave a deep imprint in one's life after reading this book. I will often go through a day or so of 'mourning' after reading a particularly moving story during which I process the story and almost 'miss' the characters in my life, however I fear that it will take me considerably longer with Garden of...so great is the effect of the numerous sub plots and the heart-wrenching metafiction of the stories of love and loss.
A beautiful, beautiful story...do read/listen to it, your life will be richer for it...a particular favourite scene being the meteors in the garden...enchanting.
A beautiful and unexpected story so well read it really transported me. My husband also raved about it (he doesn't normally 'do girly books'!
"Involving and - at the end - very affecting"
As quite often happens to me, at the beginning I thought I wasn't going to 'warm' to this, but it grew on me. I really enjoyed the story and the many characters. Inevitably all the answers to the questions were not answered but the theme meant that this was inevitable. It moves between times in the life of the narrator which are sometimes difficult to follow but do not seriously interfere with understanding the story.
I am sure this is a great piece of work and a very appealing scenario too.
However I simply could not listen to the narrator any longer than four chapters!
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