Malaya, 1951. Yun Ling Teoh, the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed tea plantations of Cameron Highlands. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan.
Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice "until the monsoon comes". Then she can design a garden for herself.
As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener and his art, while all around them a communist guerilla war rages. But the Garden of Evening Mists remains a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?
©2012 Tan Twan Eng (P)2012 W.F. Howes
Oh. My. Goodness. Such a memorable book: The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng. A marvelous story, set in Malaya (Malaysia) during the years following WWII, but with lots of flashbacks to the Japanese occupation. The author is a meticulous wordsmith with the ability to use metaphors that took my breath away, but without being overwritten. The story is, well, sprawling, and with its threads tightly braided. It's a mystery (actually several), an exploration of Japanese gardening, the history of tattoos in the Orient, tea - its growing and drinking....and more. Be ye not put off; for me it was so worth the time. And one of the very few books I wanted to read again, right away, to parse out all the nuances, clues and allusions. By the same author: The Gift of Rain, which I also enjoyed immensely.
This is also the most astonishing narration I've heard. The accents!
I loved the beauty of the writing in this book. The attention to detail in the prose--the lyrical descriptions and wonderfully imaginative word choice made for a very stimulating and artistic read, in keeping with the major theme of the philosophy and creation of a Japanese garden. In addition there is a compelling story of an interesting protagonist set during and after WWII in what is now Malaysia.
I recommend this highly.
Tan Twan Eng has written a textured and compelling story that you can't help but be drawn into. Like the garden of the title, each step into this novel draws you deeper into a drama that is layered and complex. This is much more than a World War II POW story, in fact, as amazing as it seems, the war is only a small part of the narrative. Wonderfully flawed characters. Heartbreakingly beautiful story. The evocative images make me want to buy a plane ticket to Malaya and explore the Pacific rim. The performance by Anna Bentinck is spot on. I -know- I was hearing the voice of Yun Ling Teoh telling me her story.
Don't miss this one!
I've been listening to audio books for decades and this stands out as an all time favorite.
The Garden of Evening Mists- Tan Eng
“Memories I had locked away have begun to break free, like shards of ice fracturing off an arctic shelf. In sleep, these broken floes drift toward the morning light of remembrance.”
When Yun Ling first comes to Yugiri in the decade following World War Two she remembers her sister’s death and their three years in a Japanese death camp. When she returns to Yugiri 40 years later, she remembers Aritomo. Aritomo, once the Japanese emperor’s gardener, created Yugiri, the Garden of Evening Mists. The garden was designed and built before the war in the Camaron Highlands of Malaya. Yun Ling has spent most of her life trying to forget, but as her aging brain threatens to erase her memories forever, she begins to record her story.
This is an intricate, layered story that worked beautifully on every level. The prose is poetic and suited to the exotic location. As the story develops, it is filled with details about Japanese gardens, woodblock printing, and surprisingly, tattoos. The characters are flawed, complex, and very real. They are people who grapple with devastating loss, survivor guilt, divided loyalties, and dangerous secrets. In the end some of the secrets are revealed. Some of the truth will never be completely revealed. Despite the lack of definitive answers, the ending of the book felt entirely correct.
Anna Bentinck’s performance of this book was outstanding. She handled all of the character voices and accents perfectly. I was especially impressed that she was able to maintain a consistent voice for Yun Ling while perceptibly aging the voice for the different time periods of the narrative.
Apparently, I snoozed through history when I was in school. I had no idea of the Japanese occupation of Malaysia. The story is told by Teoh Yun Ling who was a prisoner of war in a work camp where she was the sole survivor and where her sister died. Yun Lingh studies the law in England and when she returns, as a prosecutor for the Malayan government in the trials of captured Japanese Army soldiers. As the book opens, she is retiring unexpectedly early from the Supreme Court to return to the highlands countryside in hopes to honor her sister's memory by planting a garden.
The book bounces seamlessly over time between the 1940s and 1980s and Yun Lingh's relationships with her neighbors who are colonists as they live through communist guerrilla attacks but mostly her relationship with Aritomo, the former chief gardener to Emperor Hirohito of Japan. She works as his apprentice, helping him to rebuild his own garden while learns the art of Japanese gardening from him.
This book is not gripping but is a page turner. The writing is beautifully lyrical and the narration was wonderful. If you liked Cutting From Stone, I think you will like this book.
Say something about yourself!
'On a mountain above the clouds once lived a man who had been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan.'
Teoh Yun Ling retires from her position as a Supreme Court judge in the courts of Kuala Lumpur after discovering that she has aphasia, a disease that will soon render her unable to communicate (already she has flashes where she recognizes nothing). Questioning what she will become when she is cut off from the world, she realizes that the memories she has worked hard to forget will be her only anchor to the real world, without them she will be "a ghost, trapped between worlds, without an identity." Remembering will require her to uncover that past - - this is Yun Ling's story.
When her affluent family is captured during the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, Yun Ling and her sister are sent to a brutal prisoner of war camp. The girls find solace from the cruelties the Japanese soldiers inflict upon them by remembering a beautiful Japanese garden they once visited in Kyoto. Only Yun Ling survives the camp, and sets out to create a Japanese garden to honor her sister. Her mission takes her to Yugiri - the mountain "garden of evening mists" and its master gardener Aritomo, former gardener for Emperor Hirohito. To complete her quest, she must reckon her bitter resentment of all things Japanese to become Aritomo's apprentice. In the process, Yun Ling begins to recall all the horrors of her past, what it really took for her to survive, and the involvement of her Japanese teacher, Aritomo.
This is a complex and layered novel with intertwined themes of remembering and forgetting, moral ambiguity, scars and healing, and other characters with back stories of their own. The metaphors of the garden become the words too painful for the haunted characters to vocalize; the cycle of the garden carries the story through to the realization and self-healing. Author Tan Twan Eng also uses the cultural practices of Zen philosophy, the cultivation of tea, archery, and the secretive art of horimono (Japanese body tattoo) to shape the characters and reflect their journeys.
Reader's that enjoy all of the nuances of frost melting on a stone, or the slow twirling descent of a leaf from a tree, will find this book to be an exquisite journey that "captures everything beautiful and sorrowful about life." It is so beautifully constructed that there isn't a single flaw, and reminded me of looking at an orchid and contemplating the pure beauty. But, like a garden growing...it is a slow process that sometimes seemed like watching grass grow. I'm not saying I didn't like this--only that it is like taking baby steps through a journey of a thousand miles. One complaint I do have is the narrator. Her voice is lovely--very English--but the accents she uses for the characters are so inconsistent and off that she often confounds the story, making it hard to follow. I would have preferred to hear her read without the characterizations. Ethereal and transcendent, somewhat like tai chi...slow and meditative, good selection for the right kind of reader.
Audiobooks have literally changed my life. I now actually ENJOY doing mindless chores because they give me plenty of listening time!
The Garden of Evening Mists is a novel I would unreservedly recommend it to everyone, except readers who prefer to avoid difficult, disturbing topics, as a good portion of it deals with the brutality the Malayans had to suffer under the Japanese invasion during WWII. A fascinating story and exquisite writing carried me away and I both badly wanted to devour the whole thing and be done with it while at the same time not wanting it to end.
The story is told by Yun Ling Teoh, a woman of Chinese descent born in Malaysia. When we meet her on the first page of the book, she is poised to go into retirement two years early from her position as a justice of the peace. She is suffering from a mysterious brain condition which threatens to strip her of the capacity for expressing herself or understanding language, and this prompts her to write her life story before she loses the ability to convey her memories. To take on this task, she has returned to a former residence in the Cameron Highlands, where the Garden of Evening Mists of the title lays in need of much repair.
In 1951, Yun Ling found herself to be the sole survivor of a Japanese internment camp and decided she wanted to create a Japanese garden in memory of her sister, who kept them both alive by retreating to an imaginary garden through the worst of the treatment they suffered while in captivity. We are not to learn till late in the story what circumstances led to the death of this beloved sister, but we know Yun Ling has decided to devote the rest of her life to honouring her memory. There is a Japanese gardener, Aritomo, living in the Highlands; he is the exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan, whom Yun Ling approaches to ask him to create a garden for her sister. This she does despite her strong reservations; she has developed a visceral hatred for the Japanese after the treatment she suffered during the internment in camps which, according to what we know and what is told in the course of the novel, had a lot in common with the dehumanizing brutality the Nazi Germans showed in the concentration camps of Europe.
We learn that Aritomo didn't accept to create this memorial garden, but offered instead to take her on as his apprentice, and Yun Ling accepted in hopes she would later be equipped to create that garden herself. The novel travels back and forth in time, from the present—with the aging Yun Ling telling her story and trying to get the long-neglected garden back into it's original shape—to 1951, the year she worked on Aritomo's 'Garden of Evening Mists'. During that time, Communist rebels were terrorizing the land, and Yun Ling's life was endangered as she had pronounced judgments to convict and deport some of these rebels. Eventually, she takes us back to the internment camp during the war, whose location has always remained a mystery, and where we know Yun Ling lost two fingers and her beloved sister. The Yun Ling of 1951 and the narrator of the 'present' incarnation (sometime in the 80s) is embittered by her experiences in the war and weighed down by hatred for her former tormentors, but her daily contact with the garden and Aritomo, and her wish to leave behind a legacy in her sister's name, help her to revisit her past and try to cast it in a new light.
There are mysteries and complexities at the heart of the novel which are only revealed when Yun Ling the author is ready to unearth them. It is a visually lush experience, with exquisite writing which had me rewinding the audiobook constantly, just for the pleasure of 'rereading' sections filled with gorgeous imagery. In some rare cases when I've listened to an audiobook, I feel compelled to also buy the book in a print edition, and this is one such case. That being said, I was completely satisfied with the audiobook and found the narration by Anna Bentinck truly excellent. She has a facility with accents, which she renders in a subtle way, and also adjusted her voice so that it was easy to follow whether we were hearing the older, or the younger Yun Ling, situating us in time with no further markers. But I want to get a paperback copy of this novel so I can do something I never allow myself usually, which is to underline all the little moments of pure poetry so I may savour them at my own pace. This novel, shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2012 would definitely have deserved to win, and might have done so if it hadn't had the bad luck of being nominated in the same year as Hilary Mantel's equally excellent Bring Up the Bodies. I'll be looking out for whatever else Tan Twan Eng puts his hand to.
Retired CFO, Army wife, Mom of five, Grandma of six, two sons who served in combat, love to read books that reflect my values and faith, love mysteries, historical, military stories, and books that don't waste my time . . . if it doesn't have an ending that was worth the wait, I'm not a happy camper.
It took me a long time to get through this book, but I was captivated by it . . . the narration was perfect . . . I felt like I was there, in the garden of evening mists . . . I have always loved Japanese gardens, felt an unusual peacefulness there . . . and this book reconnected with me with those feelings . . . I did not know the history of the occupation of Malaysia by the Japanese during WWII . . . I am amazed more and more about what I DON'T KNOW as I listen to the audio books from Audible that include fictional stories of the past. You will not be disappointed.
this narrator took on many characters from many parts of the world- and should have simple read it in her normal voice. her "accents" are terrible.
the story is lovely.
I'm a bibliophile since early childhood. Love speculative fiction, odd premises, mystery novels that teach about different places and times.
This is an amazing story of unforgivable crimes and affection. The characters are so complex. They are capable of great kindnesses and terrible crimes and are real as a dime.
What is clearest is that this is a mixture of cultures where they cannot really possibly understand each other. Yet they work together, love each other and leave each other astonishing gifts.
The accents in the reading are annoying. I got past that but I can see where they would be a stumbling block. you might want to listen first.
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