The Garden of Evening Mists…plumbs the basics of human nature as it asks how we can commit so many atrocities in a time of war and, at the same time, create compelling, transcendent works of art…This novel uses fine art as its major theme and, in the process, becomes a work of fine art itself.
After having endured the miseries of a Japanese internment camp during WWII, 28-year-old Yun Ling Teoh makes her way in 1951 to the only Japanese garden in her native Malaya in a bid to convince its caretaker, Nakamura Aritomo, the former gardener for the Emperor of Japan, to establish a commemorative plot for her sister who died in the camp. Though he initially refuses, Aritomo agrees to mentor Yun Ling so that she might design the garden herself. While toiling away in Yugiri, the titular "garden of evening mists," Yun Ling grows fond of Aritomo, meanwhile recalling the horrors of the camp and the difficulties of the post-WWII "Emergency" in Malaya, a prolonged period of guerrilla war whose reach creeps closer by the day. Alternating between her time with Aritomo and a future wherein the now-aged Yun Ling, fighting a degenerative brain disease, desperately seeks to preserve her memories of the garden, Eng's newest (after The Gift of Rain) has the makings of a moving and unique historical, but the novel falls flat. There is a puzzling lack of pathos, and Eng's similar treatment of the tragic and the mundane serves to downplay rather than highlight the differences between the two. As a result, there is very little—other than Eng's moving atmospherics and attention to detail—to draw readers along. (Aug.)
“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."
Like his debut, The Gift of Rain (2007), Malaysian author Tan's second novel is exquisite and, like Gift, arrives stateside with Booker Prize long-list approval. Recently retired judge Teoh Yun Ling has at most a year before she will lose all language and memory to aphasia. She leaves Kuala Lumpur for the highlands of central Malaysia and finds Yugiri—the book's eponymous Garden of Evening Mists—where she's agreed to meet a Japanese scholar writing a book about Yugiri's creator, Aritomo, the self-exiled former gardener to the emperor of Japan. Four decades earlier, in spite of being the single survivor of a horrific World War II Japanese prison, Yun Ling apprenticed herself to Aritomo, hoping to someday create the perfect garden to honor her murdered sister. Almost 38 years have passed since Aritomo disappeared, and now, threatened with erasure, Yun Ling begins to record his story as well as her own. VERDICT Tan triumphs again, entwining the redemptive power of storytelling with the search for elusive truth, all the while juxtaposing Japan's ignominious war history with glorious moments of Japanese art and philosophy. Readers in search of spectacular writing will not be disappointed.—Terry Hong, Smithsonian BookDragon, Washington, DC