The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Swan Eng


The quality of the descriptive passages in this book is second to none. The author creates a picture in the reader’s mind of this beautiful garden in Malaya. It is a mystical place of retreat, a sanctuary for Aritomo, the designer and creator of the garden, and his apprentice.

The calm atmosphere contrasts with the brutal activities of Communist Terrorists in the area and the horrific memories of wartime atrocities.

The story begins with the main character, a retired judge, revealing her fear of the steady progress of a mental illness that will eventually wipe out her ability to read, write or speak. She has returned to Yugiri, the house and garden created years ago and where, as a young woman, she was apprenticed to learn the art of Japanese gardens. It is tempting to stop reading after this first chapter because the subject matter seems so depressing but if you do that you will miss so much. The story moves between her life as a young woman and her suffering and loss of her sister in a Japanese concentration camp, to the present where she allows a writer to access Aritomo’s wood cuts, with a view to publishing them in a book, and to write her memoirs whilst she still can. It is a poignant read, but well worth the effort.

Our reading group gave it 4 stars out of five.


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