Fiction Evening Mists Tan Twan Eng Omnivore Reviews

Published on February 17th, 2012


The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

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Blurb: It’s Malaya, 1949. After studying law at Cambrige and time spent helping to prosecute Japanese war criminals, Yun Ling Teoh, herself the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle fringed plantations of Northern Malaya where she grew up as a child. 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 Kuala Lumpur, in memory of her sister who died in the camp. (Myrmidon Books)

Boyd Tonkin, The Independent

Tan’s story here is just as elegantly planted as his Man Booker-long listed debut The Gift of Rain, and even more tantalisingly evocative. Suffused with a satisfying richness of colour and character, it still abounds in hidden passageways and occult corners. Mysteries and secrets persist. Tan dwells often on the borderline states, the in between areas, of Japanese art: the archer’s hiatus before the arrow speeds from the bow; the patch of skin that a master of the horimono tattoo will leave bare; or the “beautiful and sorrowful” moment “just as the last leaf is about to drop”.

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Kapka Kassabova, The Guardian

This is a novel that overflows with historical and specialist information, and like The Gift of Rain, it showcases Tan Twan Eng as a master of cultural complexities. The secondary character, Magnus, is a South African whose heart is in Malaya, and who – like Yun Ling – becomes entangled in the pre-independence turmoil of the 1950s. Indeed, all the characters, including the righteous Yun Ling and the wise Aritomo, are slowly revealed to be morally ambiguous, compromised by actions that haunt them.

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Dominique Browning, The New York Times

Aritomo, a fascinating character, the embodiment of this novel’s eloquent mystery, is not only a master gardener but an artist, a master of ukiyo-e, woodblock prints of “the floating world,” themselves expressions of fleeting beauty and impermanence. Aritomo is also a tattoo artist, and the novel culminates in a spellbinding ritual of inking, as Aritomo creates a horimono covering Yun Ling’s back. 

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Nick Rennison, The Sunday Times

With unobtrusive skill, Eng weaves together events from three periods of Teoh’s life (the war, her apprenticeship with Aritomo and her retirement to the garden of evening mists) to create a complex and powerful narrative. Shaped by her suffering in the war, Teoh is a difficult woman, hard on those she knows and on herself. … sad, sophisticated and satisfying …

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Kate Saunders, The Times

Elegant and atmospheric.

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Ivan Juritz, Literary Review

The combination of percipience and cliché lends the novel an uneven texture that is not wholly redeemed by its ingenuity of plot. The overall effect is like reading a waterlogged volume of Yeats (an important figure in the novel’s exploration of commemoration), its delicate, pastoral tones diluted with paler shades of prose, its moments of lyrical brilliance stranded between wide stretches of turgid narration.

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