The Garden of Evening Mists
This is a novel of grand, sweeping beauty.
It explores war in all its horror, memory, art, betrayal, love, and the ‘form of deception’ that is the creation of a Japanese garden. And deception, in all its forms, lies at the heart of this highly-accomplished novel.
The central character, Yun Ling , returns to the Malaya of her childhood in seach of Nakamura Aritomo, former gardener to the Emperor of Japan. She intends to persuade him to design a garden as a memorial for her sister, Yun Hong, who perished in the internment camp where both sisters had been ‘guests of the emperor’.
Yun Ling becomes Aritomo’s apprentice and as they work together, all of the dark secrets that make up this complex multi-layered novel are slowly, satisfyingly revealed in prose that is both lush and memorable.
Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambrige and time 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 where she grew up as a child. 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 Kuala Lumpur. Aritomo refuses, but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice ‘until the monsoon comes’. As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to her sensei and his art while, outside the garden, the threat of murder and kidnapping from the guerrillas of the jungle hinterland increases with each passing day.
But the Garden of Evening Mists is also a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? Why is it that Yun Ling’s friend and host Magnus Praetorius, seems almost immune to the depredations of the Communists? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?
NOMINATING LIBRARY COMMENTS
Tan’s layered story is gracefully interwoven with beautiful language and a palpable atmosphere. The characters evoke empathy and prompt one to consider relationships and the power of forgiveness. It also reminds one of the extraordinary pain that ordinary people endure while confirming that “emotional wars” and “emotional imprisonments” are often worse than physical wars and prisons. Finally the book leads to an appreciation of life, freedom and the healing power of love. This is a highly recommended read.