The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng
Weinstein Books, New York, 2012
Borrowed from my public library. Short-listed for the 2012 Booker Prize.
In Kuala Lampor, Supreme Court judge Yun Ling Teoh has been slowly loosing her mind. Wary of her malady becoming evident to others, she takes early retirement and returns to a tea plantation in the Cameron Highlands, owned by family friends. 36 years before, having been released from a Japanese prison camp, she had spent time there. Traumatised by her sister’s death in the camp and wishing to design a Japanese style garden as a memorial, she is introduced to Aritomo Nakamura, who was once the gardener to the Japanese Emperor. She asks him to build a garden for her sister. He refuses, but says he will take her on as an apprentice. Yun Ling hates the Japanese, but her desire to design a garden in memory of her sister forces her through that hatred. She stays, and learns to garden.
It is the tangle of history between the Chinese, Japanese, British and Malaysian people, as well as the relationship that grows between Yun Ling and Aritomo, that forms the base of this complex and beautifully written story. Woven throughout is the history of the land and its people. Tamn Twan Eng has written a puzzle box of a novel that, in the end, forces us to question our ideas about memory.