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“Thomas Mann begins his magisterial novel, Joseph and His Brothers with this line: "Very deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?" The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng demonstrates the truth of Mann's remark. For in this beautiful and haunting novel it seems that...”see full review » see other reviews »
“Brilliant”Indrani wrote this review Thursday, August 1, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“So Beautifully Written. Loved it. Recommend.”Nonna wrote this review Saturday, July 6, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“Thomas Mann begins his magisterial novel, Joseph and His Brothers with this line: "Very deep is the well of the past. Should we not call it bottomless?" The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng demonstrates the truth of Mann's remark. For in this beautiful and haunting novel it seems that the main character is continually dipping into the well of her own past to search for the memories that made her the aging judge that she is as the novel begins.
The story is told by Judge Yun Ling Teoh in flashbacks as she prepare her memoirs of a life that included a brutal period during World War II when she was interned in a Japanese wartime camp. The main events of the story focus on the period just after this in 1951 when she and others in Malaya (soon to become Malaysia) are recovering from the adversity and tribulation of the wartime experience. She had been employed as a researcher for the War Crimes Tribunal in the immediate aftermath of the war, but she came to visit a family friend, Magnus Pretorius, at his tea estate in the fall of 1951. It is during this visit that she comes upon Yugiri the only Japanese garden in Malaya and meets its enigmatic creator, Aritomo. In spite of her hatred for the Japanese she agrees to allow Aritomo to teach her how to build a garden - one that she wishes to prepare as a shrine for her dead sister.
The events and developing relationships as related from the memories of Judge Teoh form an exciting and suspenseful tale. But there is always the mist of memory like an aura surrounding the events she records. The author uses two statues of Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory and her unnamed sister, the goddess of forgetting, as a metaphor for the aura of memory. It is at the tea estate of Magnus that she encounters these statues:
"A pair of marble statues stood on their own plinths in the center of the lawn, facing one another. On my first glance they appeared to be identical, down to the folds of their robes spilling over the plinths. . . "The one on the right is Mnemosyne. You've heard of her?"
"The goddess of memory," I said. "Who's the other woman?"
"Her twin sister of course. The goddess of Forgetting."" (pp 35-36)
The memories are always there in the story, but the story tells of danger, sinister events and an eeriness from potential danger - terrorist gangs roaming the countryside in the aftermath of war. One aspect of the novel that provides a counterbalance to the edginess of the story is the beauty of the natural surroundings. The garden of Aritomo is in the highlands and there are the mountains in the distance. "My eyes wandered from on end of the mountains to the other. "Do you think they go on forever?"
"The mountains?" Aritomo said, as though he had been asked that question before. "They fade away. Like all things."" (p 187)
Gradually the terror abates and the Emergency it caused comes to an end. Aritomo, who is as much a philosopher as an artist, responds to this with the words. "Life has been suspended , somehow, during the Emergency," Aritomo said. "I often feel I am on a ship, heading for a destination on the other side of the world. I imagine myself in that blank space, between two points of a mapmaker's calipers"
"That empty space exists only on maps, Aritomo."
"Maps, and also in memories."" (p 284)”
“Beautiful language, complex and engaging story, strong, well-developed characters, interesting mix of Malaysian history, the history and philosophy and how to of Japanese gardening, the history and meaning of tattooing, WWII issues, and other pursuits of solitude, meditation, harmony... Finally the recurring and challenging issue of aging, illness and the memory and forgetting each of the characters experienced compelled me to think about my own experiences and what one can expect to go through, how each of the characters handled facing death. All in all an extremely satisfying read that was mindful and emotionally fulfilling.
The inhumane things we humans do to one another, and the realization that -- we can be self righteous if we choose-- every culture has participated in brutality and cruelty to our fellow man and woman, was illuminating and evoked much discussion. Members of my book group that read this found that the spirituality I found in many of the activities, was tainted, and lost because of the serious flaws of the characters (or cultures) teaching or practising them. It's a provocative argument to pursue, I think. The portions of the story that dealt with the Japanese kamakazi pilots was wrenching and left me bereft and angry, but as a friend noted this part of the story was the purist of the events relayed, told with simplicity and compassion. As the author indicated in an interview, most of the story lines were not cleanly resolved, but left hanging as often happens in life. I will admit that I got to the end and wasn't ready to give up my deep involvement in the lives of these fascinating people.
I highly recommend this book, and will myself revisit it again and again for the brilliance of the author's way with words. ”
“Weinstein Publishing|September 4, 2012|Trade Paperback|ISBN: 978-1602860180-0
Malaya, 1951, Yun Ling Teah, 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 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 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?
Very good read! Enthralling.
“Absolutely brilliant...wonderfully poetic and at the same time historical.”onlyida wrote this review Friday, May 24, 2013. ( reply | permalink ) Was this review helpful? Yes | No
“This novel of lyrical beauty is set in Malaysia in the 1950's. The main character, Yun Ling, is the only survivor of a Japanese concentration camp and has just retired as a distinguished judge. In order to honor her lifelong wish to memorialize her sister, she
masks her continuing hatred of Japanese people to apprentice herself to Arimoto, who once was the Emperor's gardener. Just as the garden is a contrived landscape which is deliberately designed to surprise and manipulate the viewer with its views and reflections, it becomes clear over time that the characters have done the same with their own lives, past and present. There are big themes of prejudice, cruelty, love, art, and the ever- shifting nature of truth in this beautiful book that mKe it well-worth reading”