Book Review: The Garden of Evening Mists

A few months ago, an awesome thing happened: I was contacted by Myrmidon Books to participate in a Virtual Book Tour (my first time ever). Very exciting, and nice to get to read a book without buying it too (you were all thinking it, no lies).

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng follows the metamorphosis of Malaysia through World War II, the fight for independence to where the country finds herself today.

With an non-chronological narrative, the protagonist (suffering from primary progressive aphasia) travels with us through the past of her country, her family and herself.

Much of Yun Ling’s life-experiences are connected to a Japanese gardener, who was once her mentor – an unlikely match, as she herself was a survivor of Japanese labour camps. And much of her life-experiences relate directly to exquisite practices of Japanese gardening.

Sogenchi Garden, the oldest surviving traditional Japanese Garden, dating to the 14th century.

Desperate not to forget, desperate to leave something tangible behind when her memories finally desert her, she continues her quest of remembrance, re-embracing thoughts and a life she left behind after traumatic events decades ago.

I enjoyed this book. The scene is set in a tangible manner, and has left me with a strong desire to travel to Malaysia. Characterisation is performed excellently. Eng weaves an intricate story, effortlessly combining past and present.

I also love the historical context of this novel, and the fact that it is so well researched.

The protagonist is Malaysian, her mentor was Japanese, and some of her closest friends are South African – and this novel embraces reconciliation as a strong theme. I enjoy that: I enjoyed Yun Ling’s journey to understanding, acceptance and perhaps (only perhaps) also forgiveness.

“One day you will realise that there is no wind, and the flag does not move. It is only the hearts and minds of men that are restless.”

In my mind, Malaysian history and literature is poorly known the world over. This novel is one very good reason for it to become more well-known.

Much of the novel takes place in the Cameron Highlands, Malaysia… and the author certainly does a good job of expressing the beauty that is experienced there.

“That point in time just as the last leaf is about to drop,as the remaining petal is about to fall; that moment captures everything beautiful and sorrowful about life. Mono no aware…”


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