The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

I loved this book for its lyrical use of language and the wonderful images conjured up by the poetic descriptions and deep insights into Japanese culture generally, and garden creation specifically.

At times, however, this was at the expense of warm, or engaging characterisation, and it was often difficult to relate to the emotionally repressed first person narrator, Judge Teoh Yung Ling. Possibly the multi-layered plot and time frame was also a bit distancing.

However, I discovered an aspect of WWII I knew little about, and an unknown (to me) area of the world. Along the way I also learned much about Japanese woodblocks, the art of the floating world and tattooing.

One of the main themes at the heart of the story was how to reconcile the highly aesthetic culture of Japan with its barbarous treatment of captured people during the war. And how the central character, the gardener Aritomo, could place love for his Emperor above his love for Yung Ling.

WP_20150615_002There was a haunting theme of remembering and forgetting, symbolised by the two statues in the garden. Indeed there were many symbolic resonances in the structure and composition of the garden, as well as clues to a central mystery.

The many nationalities in the book inhabit a lush landscape and, like the jungle that surrounds them, all the characters have dark secret places, some of which are gradually revealed and some just alluded to in this complex, beautifully written book.

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