The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng

A section of Majuba Tea Estate is visible to the east over the fence. The hollow of the valley reminds me of the open palms of a monk, cupped to receive the days blessing.  It is Saturday, but the tea-pickers are working their way up the slopes. There has been a storm in the night, and clouds are still marooned on the peaks.

A novel as lush and intoxicating as the highland jungle it’s set in, Tan Twan Eng follows up the engrossing The Gift of Rain with the beautiful Garden of Evening Mists.  Yun Ling, trying to capture her life’s memories before they slip away, recalls her time with the former gardener to the Emperor of Japan.  Despite being imprisoned by the Japanese during the Occupation of her country, Yun Ling yearns to build a memorial to her sister and approaches Aritomo to help her build a Japanese garden.
Over thirty years later Yun Ling returns to Aritomo’s garden and picks up threads of her past, learning just as much as she remembers about her past and her old tutor, prompted by her own situation as much as by Japan’s sudden interest in one of it’s once revered gardeners.

Tan Twan Eng paints a delicious canvas of Malaysia in turbulent times, with sumptuous prose and a plot that while never tense, never lets you drift away, like a leaf spinning gently down to the ground, not quite twisting and turning, but moving inextricably to it’s destination in it’s own time and path.
Yun Ling battles against her own hatred of the Japanese and what they did to her and her sister as she spends more time with Aritomo, while the communists flit around them like wasps, coming closer and closer to the Majuba tea estate where she lives, a guest of the owner, Magnus Pretorius.

Like The Gift of Rain, Eng includes a solitary Japanese character in a mentor position, whose life story unwinds throughout the book, as indeed does Yun Ling’s.  When she reveals what happened in the camp, I felt a little something of the relief Yun Ling must have felt unburdening herself.  Is Aritomo as far removed from her experience as she at first believes?  By the end of the book it is less clear, and

I loved this book, while reading, it is possible to look up from the book and see the Cameron Highlands in front of you, and almost feel as if you’re there and now I’m patiently waiting for Tan Twan Eng’s next novel.

The clock in the tower above the central portico chimed, its languid pulse beating through the walls of the courtroom. I turned my wrist slightly and checked the time: eleven minutes past three; the clock was, as ever, reliably out, its punctuality stolen by lightening years ago.


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