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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 26 June 2012
Having so enjoyed his first book, I started reading this one with great anticipation. I was not disappointed. His main character, a woman judge who has been tortured by the Japanese when they invaded Penang, approaches the former gardener to the Emperor of Japan, wanting him to make her a Japanese garden in memory of her sister.

His writing is magical and he paints vivid pictures of the Malaysian jungle near Cameron Heights. His introduces a longstanding family friend who is a survivor of the Boer War. Like the Judge he has experienced loss as his family was put in a concentration camp by the British. The battle for independence and the fight against communism also adds further depth to this fascinating story, which is wonderfully crafted throughout.

A must read.
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on 20 February 2013
Tan Twan Eng's "The Garden of Evening Mists" is one of those rare books that I want to pick up and reread immediately, there is so much in this novel.

Ostensibly this is the tale of Yun Ling, a retired Malaysian judge, who returns to the highlands and to a garden she helped build after the war with the enigmatic former gardener to Emperor Hirohito, Aritomo. The garden of the title is a garden steeped in memory for her, but as the mists of memory shift, further mysterious facets of Aritomo's life are revealed. Who was he? What was his role in Malaysia? Tied to this is Yun Ling's individual journey, from Japanese prisoner of war to judge; the route of her recovery, of her making peace with her wartime experiences is inextricably linked to her learning the ancient art of Japanese gardens, learning how to look at things differently. The two stories find perfect harmony and expression in the garden as layer upon layer of detail is slowly added.

"The Garden of Evening Mists" is such a vibrant novel, with the narratives of Yun Ling and Aritomo intertwined and growing alongside those of Magnus and Emily (owners of the neighbouring tea plantation), Frederik (their heir), Yun Hong (Yun Ling's sister), Tatsuji (a Japanese academic) and those of Malaysia and Japan as they move beyond the shadows cast by the war. Within these stories also bloom tales of art, history, love, loss, honour, duty and regret within beautiful, lyrical prose.

This is a really fantastic novel. I shall be reading it again very soon, in the meantime, I recommend it whole-heartedly.
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on 1 June 2012
I found this second novel by Tan Twan Eng both absorbing and extraordinarily enriching. His hero is a woman. He writes in the first person singular and is obviously very much in touch with the female aspect of his psyche which adds to the authenticity of his plot.

I loved his first novel, 'The Gift of Rain,' and this one has an even greater profundity. I like especially the way in which he connects the past memories of his hero, Judge Teoh Yun Ling, with her present existence.

The real subject of the story is a Japanese Gardener, Nakamura Aritomo. He had once been the gardener of the Emperor of Japan. Yun Ling's story is intimately connected with Aritomo and the unique relationship between the two. There are several interesting characters and each plays a vital part in the unfolding of the story.

On the very first page Tan Twan Eng writes,

- "Thirty-six years after that morning, I hear his voice again, hollow and resonant. Memories I had locked away began to break free, like shards of ice fracturing off an arctic shelf. In sleep these broken floes drift towards the morning light of remembrance."

That's a marvellous paragraph and immediately hooked me on the story. Its a beautiful book full of wonderful and moving images as well as being an intriguing read.
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on 9 September 2012
In this wonderful book we are plunged into the Far East, and the conflicts between Malays, Chinese and Japanese. Against a background of total savagery in and after the Second World War there is a tale of love and forgiveness that unfolds with the slow inevitability of the garden that is the centrepiece of the book. The two central characters - a former gardener to the Emperor of Japan and the Malayan Chinese prosecutor of Japanese war criminals, who subsequently becomes a judge - are portrayed with astonishing sensitivity, as is the setting in the Cameron Highlands. I loved every single minute of it, and now know where I want to go on my next holiday!
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Tan Twan Eng employs a multitude of metaphors in order to build a jigsaw puzzle, exquisitely complex, designed to be solved from the blind side with the picture only revealing itself when turned over on completion. Or a cryptic crossword with clues hidden in plain sight, partial answers nestling in boxes wrapped in tissue. A treasure hunt with a map that only unfurls a little at a time.

This is a book that leaves you wondering what understanding you still may have missed, even after two readings. It is rich, dense, challenging and yet strangely reassuring; soothing in tone. Valuably describing a past time and place; offering a true education to be absorbed slowly, paying respect for a writer who takes his time, using words as paint, creating pictures that will stay forever in the mind.

I should also add that it kept our Book Club (8 members this month) talking for over two hours and some of us all the way home in the car too!
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on 27 July 2012
For me, Tan Twan Eng's 'The Gift Of Rain' became one of those books that enter your subconscious on some level and keeps popping back into your mind. It was partly due to the evocative descriptions, partly the complexities of the central character. So when I bought my copy of 'Garden Of Evening Mists' I thought it unlikely he could achieve the same success twice. However, Tan Twan Eng has proved himself a genuine artist once again. The narrator is intriguing all the way through to the book's ending (which, by the way, carries a surprising twist and punch unusual in a so-called 'literary' novel). There is an air of beautiful sadness to some parts of the story. Again, the descriptions of the Malayan highlands are layered with deeper nuances, just as they were when Tan Twan Eng described the island of Penang in 'Gift Of Rain'. Finally, there are timeless (and some horrible) moral dilemmas swirling round this book like the mists round the eponymous garden. Dilemmas for the characters that made this reader, at least, think about the hard choices people face in the world. Tan isn't a prolific writer and reading his novel reveals why: every word counts.
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VINE VOICEon 31 July 2013
I had heard so much positive feedback about this book that I was thrilled when my book group chose it as this month's read. Unfortunately I didn't really click with the narrative. I found it rather disjointed, with several names used for each character, a lack of continuity and an inconclusive ending. In spite of this I will admit to enjoying some wonderful moments within the book.

The narrator is Yun Ling Teoh, who has survived as prisoner of the Japanese on Malaysia during WWII. She became a judge to bring justice for the many victims, but is now succumbing to a degenerative disease and must leave her job. She determines to fulfil a promise she made to her older sister many years before.
Her sister loved the beautiful simplicity of Japanese gardens and so Yun Ling approaches the exiled Japanese gardener, Arimoto, to design a garden in her sister's honour. Arimoto declines the commission but offers her an apprenticeship in his own garden.

The garden was what I enjoyed most about this book, it had such a tranquil feel, I was wandering through it with the characters.
"He turned to me, touching the side of his head lightly. At that moment it struck me that he was similar to the boulders on which we had spent the entire morning working. Only a small portion was revealed to the world, the rest was buried deep from view. (Loc 1429).

The other fascinating part of the book was the detail of the life in the concentration camp under the Japanese and the strange maze of tunnels that the prisoners were forever digging.
Then, of course there was the cultural aspect, the tattoos, the wood block paintings and the archery.

Thinking back, I wonder if I wouldn't enjoy this book more on a second reading, maybe one of these days I will tackle it again and upgrade my star rating.
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on 22 November 2012
I am not a fan of Man Booker Prize books as I find them a bit highbrow. However, I loved this book and I bought it because I loved his first book. Having been born and raised in Penang myself I recognised a lot of the places mentioned in the first book. Likewise, having visited Cameron Highlands and Kuala Lumpur it was interesting reading the book. Tan Twan Eng writes beautifully and I really enoyed the book.
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Set in post-war Malay, this tells the story of Yun Ling and her relationship with the Japanese gardener Aritomo. When we meet Yun Ling, she is elderly and has a condition that she knows will gradually lead her to lose her memory. Returning to the Cameron Highlands, where she once was apprenticed to Aritomo, she decides to record her memories while she is still able to.

The narrative shifts backwards and forwards in time, as Yun Ling recalls her time as a prisoner in a Japanese camp, the death of her beloved sister and her time with Aritomo. The book is beautifully, often poetically, written and the story is both poignant and disturbing as the author convincingly shows the continuing impact of the war on his characters. However, I felt that sometimes the author had chosen every word so carefully that the characters came over as unnaturally stylised - every piece of dialogue was weighted with meaning and every action was loaded. I also found the author's habit of dropping in Malaysian, Japanese and Afrikaans words broke the flow of the story, and the context doesn't always make the meaning immediately clear.

Overall, though, this is an engrossing, well-written book and one that will certainly make me look out for more of the author's work. Recommended - though on this occasion I wouldn't necessarily recommend the Kindle version, which was peppered with some unfortunate formatting problems that detracted from the reading experience.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 13 February 2012
We are in Malaya and Teoh Yun Ling, our main protagonist, is seventeen years old when she first hears about the legendary Nakamura Aritomo, gardener to the Emperor of Japan, from her sister Yun Hong, who is passionate about Japanese gardens. But before Yun Ling gets to meet Nakamura Aritomo, more than ten years later, she will have experienced a war and have been imprisoned with her sister in a brutal Japanese prisoner of war camp.

The story moves to 1951 when Yun Ling, now in her late twenties, leaves Kuala Lumpa and travels to Majuba Tea Estate, in the Cameron Highlands, to stay with an old business partner of her father's, Magnus, his wife, Emily and their nephew, Frederik. Yun Ling has a specific reason for her visit and that reason is Aritomo, who has left Japan and is now in Malaya, living and building a garden on the neighbouring estate to Magnus. Yun Ling, who is the sole survivor of the brutal Japanese camp, where tragically her sister died, has spent several years helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals and she has a deep hatred of the Japanese. However, as it was her beloved sister's last wish to build a Japanese garden, Yun Ling has decided to put her hatred and her pride to one side and to ask the most talented of Japanese gardeners, Aritomo, to create a memorial garden for her sister. Aritomo refuses but, after some deliberation, he agrees to take her on as an apprentice, so that once trained she will be able to create the garden herself.

Whilst Yun Ling starts work on Aritomo's Garden of Evening Mists, another war, The Malayan Emergency, where communist guerrillas are murdering planters, miners and their families, is raging in the hills and jungle around them. And whilst the communists are trying to take over the country, the Malayan nationalists are fighting for their independence from centuries of British colonial rule. As all of this carries on around them, Yun Ling finds that, despite herself, she is becoming fascinated not just by Aritomo's skill in garden design, but with the man himself. But who is the real Aritomo, and how and why did he become an exile from his homeland? And while Yun Ling tries to discover this, Aritomo has questions of his own about what happened to Yun Ling in the camp and how she managed to be the only prisoner to survive. As Yun Ling and Aritomo work together and gradually discover more about each other, they grow closer in ways that neither of them would have thought possible.

Aside from the main story of Yun Ling and Aritomo, there are, of course, other characters and strands to this story - which I have not mentioned for fear of this being a very long review and of possibly spoiling the story for prospective readers, but I will just mention that kyudo (the Japanese art of archery), horimono (the art of tattooing), Kamikaze and ritual suicide are just some of the themes covered in this remarkable story. Tan Twan Eng writes using a rich and lyrical prose and his narrative is woven with powerful images of character, time and place, where the intricacies of history and culture come to the fore. I have not read the author's first novel: The Gift of Rain (which I shall now remedy) and cannot comment on how 'The Garden of Evening Mists' relates to that, but I can say that I found this a very absorbing and rewarding read and one I would recommend.

5 Stars.
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