Friday, August 25, 2017

Malaysia: The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng

Teoh Yun Ling is a judge in Kuala Lumpur, taking early retirement to return to Yugiri, the Garden of Evening Mists. She had worked there, in the Cameron Highlands of what was then Malaya, as an apprentice to the Japanese gardener Nakamura Aritomo, at the time of the communist insurgency of the 1950s. She had asked the gardener to design a garden in memory of her sister. Instead he suggested that she work with him and learn to do it herself.

As the novel progresses, we travel back and forth in time between the present, the 1950s and the years of the Second World War, when Yun Ling and her sister Yun Hock were imprisoned by the Japanese somewhere in the Malayan jungle. It is a complex, many layered story in which the characters are not exactly what they seem on first sight. Why was the Japanese gardener, formerly gardener to the Emperor, in Malaya in the first place? What had happened to Yun Ling in the war?

This is an engrossing story and one that told me quite a lot that I didn't know about the modern history of Malaya - for instance, I didn't know that it had survived and defeated a communist insurgency in the 1950s. The book is infused with the love of art - not only Japanese gardens, but woodblock prints, the art of the tattoo, and music.

Tan Twan Eng was born in Penang, Malaysia. His debut novel "The Gift of Rain" was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize in 2007. "The Garden of Evening Mists" was published by Myrmidon Books in 2012.

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