The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng : Book Review

Storyline Rating : 5/5 stars

Brief Summary from Goodreads :

In the highlands of Malaya, a woman sets out to build a memorial to her sister, killed at the hands of the Japanese during the brutal Occupation of their country. Yun Ling’s quest leads her to The Garden of Evening Mists, and to Aritomo, a man of extraordinary skill and reputation, once the gardener of the Emperor of Japan. When she accepts his offer to become his apprentice, she begins a journey into her past, inextricably linked with the secrets of her troubled country’s history.

My Point of View :

Yet another beautifully written story by Tan Twan Eng.

However, I still love The Gift of Rain more than this one. Both stories incorporated different Japanese arts, in The Gift of Rain it was martial arts (aikido) and in The Garden of Evening Mist, it’s Japanese gardening and horimono (tattoo). I have a little knowledge about aikido but nothing about Japanese gardening and horimono. It was hard for me to imagine the gardens that was vividly described in the story, same goes to horimono. I had to reread some pages just to get the image in my mind.

Unlike in The Gift of Rain, where the story unfolded in the form of memories, in The Garden of Evening Mist, it is told through multiple stories – Yun Ling’s present, Yun Ling’s past with Arimoto, short Asian fairy tale (Hou Yi/Chang Er), Yun Ling’s past in Japanese labor camp…etc. These stories have to be read in order to understand the ending. It’s truly extraordinary how the author can fit so many stories within 348 pages.

The story started with Yun Ling heading back to Yugiri in Cameron Highlands after her retirement from her position as a Judge. Yugiri was a place where she shared memories with Aritomo, a former gardener of the Japanese emperor. When Yun Ling reached Yugiri, she recalled her past with Aritomo and her past as a Japanese slave laborer.

As I was reaching the end of the story, I really wish Yun Ling’s past as a Japanese slave laborer was never told. It was a heartbreaking tale to be told, nobody wants to remember such painful times in their life. Then when I reached the ending, I felt my mind exploded as though a bomb was dropped into it. BOOM….! All the dots suddenly connected, it made me doubt what I really understood about Aritomo up till that point. Was his intentions a good one? Did he really went missing from a hike in the jungle? Sadly, he was just assumed dead as the body was never found.

It was implied that Yun Ling had a relationship with Arimoto, and Frederik (a close friend of Yun Ling’s) love her but his feelings was never reciprocated. I said it was implied mainly because I couldn’t “feel” the love when I read the story. This “romance” didn’t really fit in story if you ask me. I’ve read a lot of romance books, so this relationship Yun Ling have with Arimoto felt a lot more like a one night stand (more than once actually) kind of thing.

Despite the botched up romance, I can’t bring myself to give the book anything less than five stars, as I believe this story is worth ones time to read. As I read the story, it gave me a kind of peacefulness. It was as though the peace and calm of Yugiri reached out to me (of course this is if you ignore Yun Ling’s painful past and also the post-war). Well, if you like reading The Gift of Rain, you might probably like this one too.

Favourite Quote :

“For what is a person without memories? A ghost, trapped between worlds, without an identity, with no future, no past.”



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