The Garden of Evening Mists is an eloquently written book of memory – remembering and forgetting. Tan Twan Eng invites us to discover the relationship between Yun Ling Teoh, who was a Japanese prisoner during World War II, and later served as an apprentice of a Japanese gardener Nakamura Aritomo.
The meat of the story takes place in Malay during World War II while the story is actually told in three different time periods: the late 1980s, when the main character writes down her story, the early 1950s when the main action takes place, and World War II, which provides the backdrop for the story.
The Garden of Evening Mists covers a lot of territory. Tan Twan Eng incorporates existential gardening concepts such as shakkei, “borrowed scenery”; which “every aspect of gardening is a form of deception”; the “Art of Setting Stones” is back-breaking; a garden is the expression of spiritual states. Eng also explores archery, which Aritomo practices as a form of meditation. Tea-growing, and about the sexually charged practice of horimono (Japanese tattooing), as well as the disturbing details of Japanese war camps where Yun Ling and others were “guests of the Emperor”, a disgusting term.
The Garden of Evening Mists is a sobering story of war and its impact on survivors lives. Heartbreaking as well as inspiring with the strength of Yun Ling. The setting of Malay adds to this historical fiction novel. I suggest you add this to your reading list.