Gateway Gazette

From My Bookshelf: Tan Twang Eng

By Lynn Willoughby

The Garden of Evening Mists ~ Tan Twan Eng

This novel is complex, sometimes brutal, often beautiful.  Teoh Yun Ling, the protagonist, is of Chinese origin but was born and raised in Maylaya.
When the Japanese invaded the country, shortly before attacking Pearl Harbour, King and her sister Yun Hong are taken prisoner.
Yun was beautiful and was immediately put to work as a “comfort woman”.  Ling worked in the camp kitchen and was occasionally able to smuggle extra food to her sister and the other women.  Everyone was hungry all the time.  The sisters’ brief moments of conversation were always about a Japanese garden they were mentally creating.
Eventually, Ling becomes the personal interpreter for officer Tominaga Noburu and her life becomes a little easier. When it is clear that Japan has lost the war, Noburu takes Ling into the forest and tells her to follow the river to find help.  She survive and spends many years working in the judicial system bringing Japanese officers to trial for war crimes and atrocities.
While visiting friends who have a tea plantation Ling meets Aritomo – former head gardener to the Japanese Emperor.  She asks him to create a garden to honour her sister, which he refuses to do.  He does say that he will teach her instead.  She willingly becomes his apprentice and much of the book has to do with Japanese art and gardening.
This is where the author lost me.  I just could not get past the emotions and brutality Ling experienced as a prisoner and how you could then spend hours every day working side by side with a Japanese man.  I just did not like any of the characters.
The gardens are complicated and every stone, every tree or pond has a specific role in the garden, all leading to the ultimate goal of tranquility.  And while we may be able to do this in a garden, it is not so easy in life.
There are many layers in this book and they are all about conflict – in Malaya, in South Africa in Japan and Pearl Harbour.  It is a book about forgetting and about remembering.
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Who Knew?

Japanese tatoos (horimono) are based on art and every image has a meaning and a purpose.  The art of horimono is thought to date back to approximately 10,000 BC

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