Sunday, 19 August 2012

Book #71 The Garden Of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The Garden Of Evening Mists

In May, I read The Gift Of Rain by Tan Twan Eng and I thought it was an extremely beautiful novel, and I looked forward to reading his new offering The Garden Of Evening Mists, like its predecessor, it has been nominated for the Booker Prize and alongside its predecessor it shares certain thematic approaches.

Yun Ling, a newly retired Judge returns to her country home Yugiri in the Malaysian hillside. Terrified by an illness, the symptoms of which have become to cause dementia, she begins to write down her recollections of when she first came to Yugiri in her twenties.

Yun Ling's story begins in Post war Malaysia which is recovering from Japanese occupation. Yun Ling herself was a prisoner of war. Determined to honour the memory of her sister who did not survive, Yun Ling came to Yugiri to persuade master gardener Aritomo to build her a garden in her sisters memory. Aritomo refuses, but offers her an apprenticeship. The two begin an uneasy relationship, for Aritomo is Japanese, and Yun Ling a victim of their wartime atrocities.

In many ways the construct and concept behind The Garden Of Evening Mists ape those of The Gift Of Rain, Philip that novels protagonist like Yun Ling is Chinese, and like Yun Ling is telling a story about his past. Again like Philip, Yun Ling has the dilemma of an intense friendship with a Japanese person at a time when Japanese people were extremely hated in Malaysia and Aritomo like Endo-san has hidden secrets. Both novels have a present day storyline, for Philip the visit of Michiko and for Yun Ling the visit of Tatsuji both of whom are come to make enquiries after each protagonists Japanese friend.

It frustrates me that the novels should have such overt similarities, because again like The Gift Of Rain, The Garden Of Evening Mists is beautifully crafted and stunningly written, there is no doubt in my mind that Tan Twan Eng is a wonderful writer. Yet, as a writer of his calibre, surely he should have been able to create more difference, more distance between the two, unless they are somehow intended as companions, which if they are I'm not aware of it. Clearly, Eng is fascinated by the Japanese occupation of Malaysia, but The Gift Of Rain was such a detailed well crafted look at the issue that another novel on the same kind of topic, albeit from a later angle, and so similar is somehow superfluous.

However, detach this novel entirely from its predecessor and take it of its own accord, and what you have in your hands is a great novel with everything a great novel ought to have. It is moving, absorbing, has great characterisation, and above all superb prose that you can almost forgive Eng the overdoing of thematic emblems, because there are many successful authors out there drowning in status, plaudits and awards who cannot write prose even half so well as him. 9/10              

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