Friday 23 March 2012

Book review : The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng

When I was invited to join in on the blogtour for Tan Twan Eng's novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, I was intrigued to discover the book because, although I'd heard of his first highly-acclaimed novel The Gift of Rain, I hadn't actually read it. Despite the intriguing title, the front cover of the book doesn't really give a lot away so I turned to the first page without really knowing what to expect and was instantly swept away to another time and place by the evocative, almost lyrical style of writing.

The book deals with a time and place I know very little about, namely Malaya in 1949, so I did feel that my background knowledge was slightly lacking at times, preventing me from understanding all the implications. The book is understated and poetic, touching on the horrors of - for example - the Japanese prisoner of war camps in World War Two or the murderous attacks of the Communist rebels, without going into any great detail of what went on.

The novel follows Yun Ling Teoh, physically and mentally scarred after her time in the Japanese wartime camp where her sister died, who returns to Northern Malaya (now Malaysia) where she grew up as a child. Seeking inner peace and a tribute to her dead sister, she sets out to create a Japanese garden, working alongside the mysterious Aritomo, former gardener to the Emperor of Japan.

Yun Ling's search for harmony, balance and peace in her Japanese garden is counterbalanced by the political turmoil going on around her, as the Chinese communists insurge against their British rulers, fighting for Malaysia’s independence. It is a time of fear, violence and uncertainty, which echoes Yun Ling's time in the Japanese prison camp, forcing her to deal with the past that haunts her and throwing up the personal secrets and private mysteries of the inhabitants of the jungle-fringed plantations.

The writing may be understated but it is powerfully evocative with haunting imagery and a touch of exoticism which will transport you to the troubled times of post-war Malaya. Unlike chicklit or crime fiction that will provide instant gratification with feel-good escapism or a fast-paced adrenalin rush, this is a slow, thoughtful read that you will want to take the time to savour. 

star rating : 4/5

RRP : £12.99

  • Paperback: 448 pages
  • Publisher: Myrmidon Books Ltd (11 Feb 2012)
  • Language English
  • ISBN-10: 1905802625
  • ISBN-13: 978-1905802623

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  1. This sounds intriguing. I love something new to read. Thanks for the review.

  2. I'd not heard of this book before reading your review, it sounds an interesting read & one I will be looking out for now (and The gift of Rain too)


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