Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,
Nicholas
nwhyte

June Books 5) The Garden of Evening Mists, by Tan Twan Eng

In the dream I watch Aritomo walk on a path in the rainforest, pushing aside the overhanging branches and vines. Here and there the path narrows or crumbles into the river. He is not far ahead of me and I have the feeling that I am pursuing him, quietly, stealthily. Several times he slows down, as though allowing me to keep him in sight. Not once does he look back.
This novel is set in Malaysia, mainly in 1951 but with flashbacks to the Japanese occupation, and itself told as a flashback from the 1980s. It was interesting to read this so soon after Ballard's autobiography, and not all that long after I read A Town Like Alice. There is also a particular personal point of interest for me: my father was born in Penang in 1928, not very far in space or time from the novel's protagonist, where his father was involved in various rubber plantation enterprises which all collapsed a few years later in the Great Depression.

Even without that personal interest, I think this is a brilliant book. "Evening Mists" is an estate in the Cameron Highlands, the core resort of the Malay peninsula; the narrator is Yun Ling Teoh, and the story, told from her mid-1980s viewpoint as she retires as a judge and contemplates death, concerns her experiences as a Japanese prisoner during the war and her relationship with the Japanese gardener and artist Aritomo a few years later, during the Malay insurgency. I found it a fascinating meld of art, war and personal histories, in a part of the world which I have always wanted to know a bit more about, with a very neat plot twist at the end regarding Aritomo's hidden final work. Strongly recommended.
Tags: bookblog 2013
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