The Garden of Evening Mistsby Tan Twan Eng
Malaya, 1951. Yun Ling Teoh, the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed tea plantations of Cameron Highlands. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice “until the monsoon comes.” Then she can design a garden for herself.
As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener and his art, while all around them a communist guerilla war rages. But the Garden of Evening Mists remains a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?
“The Garden of Evening Mists offers action-packed, end-of-empire storytelling in the vein of Tan’s compatriot Tash Aw. His fictional garden cultivates formal harmony –but also undermines it. It unmasks sophisticated artistry as a partner of pain and lies. This duality invests the novel with a climate of doubt; a mood – as with Aritomo’s creation – of “tension and possibility”. Its beauty never comes to rest.”
Boyd Tonkin, The Independent (UK)
“A rising star from Malaysia . . . Tan writes with breath-catching poise and grace. [The Garden of Evening Mists is a novel of] linguistic refinement and searching intelligence. . . . But for all its mission to ‘capture stillness on paper’. . . The Garden of Evening Mists also offers action-packed, end-of-empire storytelling.”
Dominique Browning, The New York Times Book Review“[A] strong quiet novel [of] eloquent mystery.”
“The unexpected relationship between a war-scarred woman and an exiled gardener leads to a journey through remorse to a kind of peace. After a notable debut, Eng (The Gift of Rain, 2008) returns to the landscape of his origins with a poetic, compassionate, sorrowful novel set in the aftermath of World War II in Malaya…Grace and empathy infuse this melancholy landscape of complex loyalties enfolded by brutal history, creating a novel of peculiar, mysterious, tragic beauty.” – Kirkus Reviews, STARRED REVIEW
“As intricately designed as a Japanese garden, this deceptively quiet novel resonates with the power to inspire a variety of passionate emotions…A haunting novel certain to stay with the reader long after the book is closed.”
Library Journal, STARRED REVIEW
“Like his debut, The Gift of Rain (2007), Tan’s second novel is exquisite…Tan triumphs again, entwining the redemptive power of storytelling with the elusive search for truth, all the while juxtaposing Japan’s inhumane war history with glorious moments of Japanese art and philosophy. All readers in search of spectacular writing will not be disappointed.”
"Beautifully written...Eng is quite simply one of the best novelists writing today."
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The Garden of Evening Mistsa novel
By Tan Twan Eng
Weinstein BooksCopyright © 2012 Tan Twan Eng
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOn a mountain above the clouds once lived a man who had been the gardener of the emperor of Japan. Not many people would have known of him before the war, but I did. He had left his home on the rim of the sunrise to come to the central highlands of Malaya. I was seventeen years old when my sister first told me about him. A decade would pass before I traveled up to the mountains to see him.
He did not apologize for what his countrymen had done to my sister and me. Not on that rain-scratched morning when we first met, nor at any other time. What words could have healed my pain, returned my sister to me? None. And he understood that. Not many people did.
Thirty-six years after that morning, I hear his voice again, hollow and resonant. Memories I had locked away have begun to break free, like shards of ice fracturing off an arctic shelf. In sleep, these broken floes drift toward the morning light of remembrance.
The stillness of the mountains awakens me. The depth of the silence: that is what I had forgotten about living in Yugiri. The murmurings of the house hover in the air when I open my eyes. An old house retains its hoard of memories, I remember Aritomo telling me once.
Ah Cheong knocks on the door and calls softly to me. I get out of bed and put on my dressing gown. I look around for my gloves and find them on the bedside table. Pulling them over my hands, I tell the housekeeper to come in. He enters and sets the pewter tray with a pot of tea and a plate of cut papaya on a side table; he had done the same for Aritomo every morning. He turns to me and says, "I wish you a long and peaceful retirement, Judge Teoh."
"Yes, it seems I've beaten you to it." He is, I calculate, five or six years older than me. He was not here when I arrived yesterday evening. I study him, layering what I see over what I remember. He is a short, neat man, shorter than I recall, his head completely bald now. Our eyes meet. "You're thinking of the first time you saw me, aren't you?"
"Not the first time, but the last day. The day you left." He nods to himself. "Ah Foon and I—we always hoped you'd come back one day."
"Is she well?" I tilt sideways to look behind him, seeking his wife at the door, waiting to be called in. They live in Tanah Rata, cycling up the mountain road to Yugiri every morning.
"Ah Foon passed away, Judge Teoh. Four years ago."
"Yes. Yes, of course."
"She wanted to tell you how grateful she was that you paid her hospital bills. So was I."
I open the teapot's lid, then close it, trying to remember which hospital she had been admitted to. The name comes to me: Lady Templer Hospital.
"Five weeks," he says.
"In five weeks' time it will be thirty-four years since Mr. Aritomo left us."
"For goodness' sake, Ah Cheong!" I have not returned to Yugiri in almost as long. Does the housekeeper judge me by the increasing number of years from the last time I was in this house, like a father scoring another notch on the kitchen wall to mark his child's growth?
Ah Cheong's gaze fixes on a spot somewhere over my shoulder. "If there's nothing else ..." He begins to turn away.
In a gentler tone, I say, "I'm expecting a visitor at ten o'clock this morning. Professor Yoshikawa. Show him to the sitting room verandah."
The housekeeper nods once and leaves, closing the door behind him. Not for the first time I wonder how much he knows, what he has seen and heard in his years of service with Aritomo.
The papaya is chilled, just the way I like it. Squeezing the wedge of lime over it, I eat two slices before putting down the plate. Opening the sliding doors, I step onto the verandah. The house sits on low stilts and the verandah is two feet above the ground. The bamboo blinds creak when I scroll them up. The mountains are as I have always remembered them, the first light of the morning melting down their flanks. Damp withered leaves and broken-off twigs cover the lawn. This part of the house is hidden from the main garden by a wooden fence. A section has collapsed, and tall grass spikes out from the gaps between the fallen planks. Even though I have prepared myself for it, the neglected condition of the place shocks me.
A section of Majuba Tea Estate is visible to the east over the fence. The hollow of the valley reminds me of the open palms of a monk, cupped to receive the day's blessing. It is Saturday, but the tea pickers are working their way up the slopes. There has been a storm in the night, and clouds are still marooned on the peaks. I step down the verandah onto a narrow strip of ceramic tiles, cold and wet beneath my bare soles. Aritomo obtained them from a ruined palace in Ayutthaya, where they had once paved the courtyard of an ancient and nameless king. The tiles are the last remnants of a forgotten kingdom, its histories consigned to oblivion.
I fill my lungs to the brim and exhale. Seeing my own breath take shape, this cobweb of air that only a second ago had been inside me, I remember the sense of wonder it used to bring. The fatigue of the past months drains from my body, only to flood back into me a moment later. It feels strange that I no longer have to spend my weekends reading piles of appeal documents or catching up with the week's paperwork.
I breathe out through my mouth a few more times, watching my breaths fade away into the garden.
My secretary, Azizah, brought me the envelope shortly before we left my chambers to go into the courtroom. "This came for you just now, Puan," she said.
Inside was a note from Professor Yoshikawa Tatsuji, confirming the date and time of our meeting in Yugiri. It had been sent a week before. Looking at his neat handwriting, I wondered if it had been a mistake to have agreed to see him. I was about to telephone him in Tokyo to cancel the appointment when I realized he would already be on his way to Malaysia. And there was something else inside the envelope. Turning it over, a thin wooden stick, about five inches long, fell out onto my desk. I picked it up and dipped it into the light of my desk lamp. The wood was dark and smooth, its tip ringed with fine, overlapping grooves.
"So short-lah, the chopstick. For children is it?" Azizah said, coming into the room with a stack of documents for me to sign. "Where's the other one?"
"It's not a chopstick."
I sat there, looking at the stick on the table until Azizah reminded me that my retirement ceremony was about to begin. She helped me into my robe and together we went out to the corridor. She walked ahead of me as usual to give the advocates warning that Puan Hakim was on her way—they always used to watch her face to gauge my mood. Following behind her, I realized that this would be the last time I would make this walk from my chambers to my courtroom.
Built nearly a century ago, the Supreme Court building in Kuala Lumpur had the solidity of a colonial structure, erected to outlast empires. The high ceilings and the thick walls kept the air cool even on the hottest of days. My courtroom was large enough to seat forty, perhaps even fifty people, but on this Tuesday afternoon the advocates who had not arrived early had to huddle by the doors at the back. Azizah had informed me about the numbers attending the ceremony but I was still taken aback when I took my place on the bench beneath the portraits of the agong and his queen. Silence spread across the courtroom when Abdullah Mansor, the chief justice, entered and sat down next to me. He leaned over and spoke into my ear. "It's not too late to reconsider."
"You never give up, do you?" I said, giving him a brief smile.
"And you never change your mind." He sighed. "I know. But can't you stay on? You only have two more years to go."
Looking at him, I recalled the afternoon in his chambers when I told him of my decision to take early retirement. We had fought about many things over the years—points of law or the way he administered the courts—but I had always respected his intellect, his sense of fairness and his loyalty to us judges. That afternoon was the only time he had ever lost his composure with me. Now there was only sadness in his face. I would miss him.
Peering over his spectacles, Abdullah began recounting my life to the audience, braiding sentences in English into his speech, ignoring the sign in the courtroom dictating the use of the Malay language in court.
"Judge Teoh was only the second woman to be appointed to the Supreme Court," he said. "She has served on this Bench for the past fourteen years ..."
Through the high, dusty windows I saw the corner of the cricket field across the road and, further away, the Selangor Club, its mock- Tudor facade reminding me of the bungalows in Cameron Highlands. The clock in the tower above the central portico chimed, its languid pulse beating through the walls of the courtroom. I turned my wrist slightly and checked the time: eleven minutes past three; the clock was, as ever, reliably out, its punctuality stolen by lightning years ago.
"... few of us here today are aware that she was a prisoner in a Japanese internment camp when she was nineteen," said Abdullah.
The advocates murmured among themselves, observing me with heightened interest. I had never spoken of the three years I had spent in the camp to anyone. I tried not to think about it as I went about my days, and mostly I succeeded. But occasionally the memories still found their way in, through a sound I heard, a word someone uttered, or a smell I caught in the street.
"When the war ended," the chief justice continued, "Judge Teoh worked as a research clerk in the War Crimes Tribunal while waiting for admission to read law at Girton College, Cambridge. After being called to the bar, she returned to Malaya in 1949 and worked as a deputy public prosecutor for nearly two years ..."
In the front row below me sat four elderly British advocates, their suits and ties almost as old as they. Along with a number of rubber planters and civil servants, they had chosen to stay on in Malaya after its independence, thirty years ago. These aged Englishmen had the forlorn air of pages torn from an old and forgotten book.
The chief justice cleared his throat and I looked at him. "Judge Teoh was not due to retire for another two years, so you will no doubt imagine our surprise when, only two months ago, she told us she intended to leave the Bench. Her written judgments are known for their clarity and elegant turns of phrase ..." His words flowered, became more laudatory. I was far away in another time, thinking of Aritomo and his garden in the mountains.
The speech ended. I brought my mind back to the courtroom, hoping that no one had noticed the potholes in my attention; it would not do to appear distracted at my own retirement ceremony.
I gave a short, simple address to the audience and then Abdullah brought the ceremony to a close. I had invited a few well-wishers from the Bar Council, my colleagues and the senior partners in the city's larger law firms for a small reception in my chambers. A reporter asked me a few questions and took photographs. After the guests left, Azizah went around the room, gathering up the cups and the paper plates of half-eaten food.
"Take those curry puffs with you," I said, "and that box of cakes. Don't waste food."
"I know-lah. You always tell me that." She packed the food away and said, "Is there anything else you need?"
"You can go home. I'll lock up." It was what I usually said to her at the end of every court term. "And thank you, Azizah. For everything."
She shook the creases out of my black robe, hung it on the coat stand and turned to look at me. "It wasn't easy working for you all these years, Puan, but I'm glad I did." Tears gleamed in her eyes. "The lawyers—you were difficult with them, but they've always respected you. You listened to them."
"That's the duty of a judge, Azizah. To listen. So many judges seem to forget that."
"Ah, but you weren't listening earlier, when Tuan Mansor was going on and on. I was looking at you."
"He was talking about my life, Azizah." I smiled at her. "Hardly much there I don't know about already, don't you think?"
"Did the orang Jepun do that to you?" She pointed to my hands. "Maaf," she apologized, "but ... I was always too scared to ask you. You know, I've never seen you without your gloves."
I rotated my left wrist slowly, turning an invisible doorknob. "One good thing about growing old," I said, looking at the part of the glove where two of its fingers had been cut off and stitched over. "Unless they look closely, people probably think I'm just a vain old woman, hiding my arthritis."
We stood there, both of us uncertain of how to conduct our partings. Then she reached out and grasped my other hand, pulling me into an embrace before I could react, enveloping me like dough around a stick. Then she let go of me, collected her handbag and left.
I looked around. The bookshelves were bare. My things had already been packed away and sent to my house in Bukit Tunku, flotsam sucked back to sea by the departing tide. Boxes of Malayan Law Journals and All England Law Reports were stacked in a corner for donation to the Bar Library. Only a single shelf of MLJs remained, their spines stamped in gold with the year in which the cases were reported. Azizah had promised to come in tomorrow and pack them away.
I went to a picture hanging on a wall, a watercolor of the home I had grown up in. My sister had painted it. It was the only work of hers I owned, the only one I had ever come across after the war. I lifted it off its hook and set it down by the door.
The stacks of manila folders tied with pink ribbons that normally crowded my desk had been reassigned to the other judges; the table seemed larger than usual when I sat down in my chair. The wooden stick was still lying where I had left it. Beyond the half-opened windows, dusk was summoning the crows to their roosts. The birds thickened the foliage of the angsana trees lining the road, filling the streets with their babble. Lifting the telephone receiver, I began dialing and then stopped, unable to recall the rest of the numbers. I paged through my address book, rang the main house in Majuba Tea Estate, and when a maid answered asked to speak to Frederik Pretorius. I did not have to wait long.
"Yun Ling?" he said when he came on the line, sounding slightly out of breath.
"I'm coming to Yugiri."
Silence pressed down on the line. "When?"
"This Friday." I paused. It had been seven months since we had last spoken to each other. "Will you tell Ah Cheong to have the house ready for me?"
"He's always kept it ready for you," Frederik replied. "But I'll tell him. Stop by at the estate on the way. We can have some tea. I'll drive you to Yugiri."
"I haven't forgotten how to get there, Frederik."
Another stretch of silence connected us. "The monsoon's over, but there's still some rain. Drive carefully." He hung up.
The call to prayer unwound from the minarets of the Jamek Mosque across the river to echo through the city. I listened to the courthouse empty itself. The sounds were so familiar to me that I had stopped paying attention to them years ago. The wheel of a trolley squeaked as someone—probably Rashid, the registrar's clerk—pushed the day's applications to the filing room. The telephone in another judge's chambers rang for a minute, then gave up. The slam of doors echoed through the corridors; I had never realized how loud they sounded.
I picked up my briefcase and shook it once. It was lighter than usual. I packed my court robe into it. At the door I turned around to look at my chambers. I gripped the edge of the door frame, realizing that I would never again set foot in this room. The weakness passed. I switched off the lights but continued to stand there, gazing into the shadows. I picked up my sister's watercolor and closed the door, working the handle a few times to make sure it was properly locked. Then I made my way along the dimly lit corridor. On one wall a gallery of former judges stared down at me, their faces changing from European to Malay and Chinese and Indian, from monochrome to color. I passed the empty space where my portrait would soon be added. At the end of the passageway I went down the stairs. Instead of turning left toward the judges' exit to the car park, I went out to the courtyard garden.
Excerpted from The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng Copyright © 2012 by Tan Twan Eng . Excerpted by permission of Weinstein Books. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Tan Twan Eng was born in Penang, Malaysia, but lived in various places in Malaysia as a child. He worked as an Intellectual Property lawyer before resigning from his position to write his novel, The Gift of Rain. His second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, will be published in the United Kingdom in February 2012.
The Gift of Rain was nominated for the Man Booker Prize, and has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Romanian, Czech and Serbian.
Tan Twan Eng lives in Cape Town where he is working on his third novel.
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I came upon this by recommendation of a friend and I am so pleased to have taken the suggestion. The writing is so intelligent and the story beckons page turning. This is quality reading, completely engaging. Linda
Eng's "The Garden of Evening Mists" initially captivates the reader with incandescent prose. Then, as the reader winds through threads of memory and amnesia, knowledge and ignorance, honor and disgrace, love and hate, the present and the past, the novel takes on the character of a Japanese garden in which subtle placement and juxtaposition of elements combine to form a tale of sublime depth and beauty. There are passages that beg to shared aloud, and a revelatory conclusion that compels the reader to return immediately to page one and begin again.
This book aloud me to travel back in time to a culture that I really knew little of and to embrace the beauty of a region that is filled with conflict even today. The characters seemed be sitting next to you, you could feel their anger, joy, fear and loss. The worst is the betrayal, or was it forgiveness. Hard to say for those who hid things deep within.
While light grazing of composing a Japanese garden was somewhat interesting, the story built around it was weak and boring.
The beauty of Eng's language makes the reader feel as if he/she is in Malaya with the characters. This is a book to read slowly, savoring as each new detail of the characters' pasts are revealed. I came upon this book by accident; I'm glad I did.
I love historical fiction. Reading this book was akin to reading poetry; although it is not at all in verse. It certainly gave viewpoints of several different cultures for that particular period of time. I will definitely be reading this author's first book.
This is a wonderful book. The setting, time in history, and the details of Japanese gardening weren't all that familiar to me, but now they seem very real, as though I had been there. Though the characters had had lives very unlike my own, I could identify with and care about them While I'm sure that I missed some of what the author had to say, I learned a lot and was given plenty to think about. I had not read other books by this author, but probably will now, and will probably read this one again a time or two.
I so eagerly awaited this, the second novel by Tan Twan Eng , because of how much I adored The Gift of Rain. While the writing is just as beautiful as it was in his first novel I found myself somewhat let down after I had gotten about halfway through. I could not connect with Yun Ling no matter how I tried. This may have been by design given the character's history; perhaps the author intended for there to be a wall surrounding her but it kept me from caring about her.While I learned a great deal just as I did reading Eng's first novel I ultimately was left wanting.