Recently retired judge Teoh Yun Ling has at most a year before she will lose all language and memory to aphasia. She leaves Kuala Lumpur for the highlands of central Malaysia and finds Yugiri – the book’s eponymous Garden of Evening Mists – where she’s agreed to meet a Japanese scholar writing a book about Yugiri’s creator, Aritomo, the self-exiled former gardener to the emperor of Japan.
Four decades earlier, in spite of being the single survivor of a horrific World War II Japanese prison, Yun Ling apprenticed herself to Aritomo, hoping to someday create the perfect garden to honor her murdered sister. Almost 38 years have passed since Aritomo disappeared, and now, threatened with erasure, Yun Ling begins to record his story as well as her own.
Verdict: Tan triumphs again, entwining the redemptive power of storytelling with the search for elusive truth, all the while juxtaposing Japan’s ignominious war history with glorious moments of Japanese art and philosophy. Readers in search of spectacular writing will not be disappointed.
Tidbit: Since the review was originally written, Tan moved up to the Booker shortlist! You know who I’ll be rooting for! Stay tuned!
Tidbit2: Library Journal says Garden is one of four September titles “trending now that I don’t want you to miss,” writes fiction editor Barbara Hoffert. This review above gets quotes. Whoo hoooo!