The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

The second country I visited via books this year was Malaysia. Last year I had the opportunity to listen to all of the authors shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize read from their novels. When I heard Tan Twan Eng read from his novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, I knew I wanted to read it. A few days later I popped into the bookstore and purchased the book. And I was fortunate enough to snag an autographed copy.

Teoh Yun Ling didn’t have an easy life. During World War II she and her sister were sent to a Japanese camp. She was the only one who survived the camp. After the war she prosecuted Japanese war criminals. Yun Ling hated the Japanese. But she loved her sister who died in the camp. Yun Ling didn’t know where she was interned. And she didn’t know where her sister died or where who body was. Since she couldn’t bury her, she wanted to create a memorial garden for her sister, who loved Japanese Gardens. Yun Ling approaches Nakamura Aritomo, who is now living in Malaysia. He was the gardener for the Emperor of Japan and Yun Ling wants to commission him to design a garden for her sister. He refuses. However, he takes her on as an apprentice so Yun Ling can create a garden herself.

World War II has ended, however, there’s a new war being fought in the jungles of Malaysia. Communist guerrillas are roaming the countryside murdering those in their way. Malayan nationalists are struggling for independence from Britain. And through it all, Yun Ling and Aritomo work in the Garden of Evening Mists.

This novel is one of the most beautiful novels I have ever read. On many occasions I found myself rereading passages.

“Thirty-six years after that morning, I hear his voice again, hollow and resonant. Memories I had locked away have begun to break free, like shards of ice fracturing off an arctic shelf. In sleep, these broken floes drift towards the morning light of remembrance.”

Before reading this I didn’t know much about Malaysia and its turbulent history. The history alone broke my heart. But reading about Yun Ling and her trials and tribulations brought it to life for me. The amount of cruelty humans can inflict on other humans is disturbing. While this novel is beautiful, it is also gut-wrenching. War is brutal. No matter what language you use to describe it, it’s violent.

This novel is one that should be read in small chunks. Don’t devour it. Savor it. The Garden of Evening Mists is a work of art. If you have not read it, I encourage you to do so.

About TBM

TB Markinson is an American who's recently returned to the US after a seven-year stint in the UK and Ireland. When she isn't writing, she's traveling the world, watching sports on the telly, visiting pubs in New England, or reading. Not necessarily in that order. Her novels have hit Amazon bestseller lists for lesbian fiction and lesbian romance. She cohosts the Lesbians Who Write Podcast ( with Clare Lydon. TB also runs I Heart Lesfic (, a place for authors and fans of lesfic to come together to celebrate lesbian fiction.
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83 Responses to The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

  1. ilargia64 says:

    I did not read the book…But after reading your words, I think it is the next one I am going to pick from the library….Thanks a lot!!!!

  2. I have this on my “to-read” list. Glad that you enjoyed it…your review is very encouraging!

  3. zelmare says:

    Wow…sounds like a worthwhile read. 🙂

  4. This sounds like an amazing read!! I just added to my “want to read” list on Goodreads!

  5. aFrankAngle says:

    Hmmm … I haven’t read the book nor been to Malaysia.

  6. Beth Ann says:

    Sounds like a fabulous book! Thanks for sharing!

  7. mairedubhtx says:

    Thanks for the recommendation. It sounds like a marvelous book!

  8. Another new title for me and a new author as well. I haven’t been to Malaysia, but you are inspiring a visit.

  9. I love this; “one that should be read in small chunks. Don’t devour it. Savor it” Nicely said. The language in the book sounds exquisite – and the plot interesting and thoughtful.
    War is horrid – it will never be anything else – it won’t go away, but the important thing is how the remnants are dealt with. Something must be learned – something positive must be built – then maybe some day wars will be a choice set aside.
    Lovely post

    • TBM says:

      War shows us how much hatred can reside in a society. And it shows us how horrible people can be. But you are right, we should learn from them. If we don’t learn, we can’t recover and rebuild. And hopefully we can live in peace.

  10. Caroline says:

    I’m very glad to read you liked it this much. I’ve got this after having read quite a few raving reviews of bloggers whose taste I trust. I know I should move it up in my pile but at the same time I know you are right, this is one to read slowly and I don’t always have the time for that. I wait for the right moment.

    • TBM says:

      yes, don’t rush it. I set it aside for a few months when I new my life wouldn’t be so crazy. Some novels and can rip through and not miss much. This isn’t one of those. I wonder if you can read it for your War and Literature readings.

  11. biblioglobal says:

    I’m glad to see you enjoyed this. I agree, it is absolutely a book to savor.

  12. I had never heard of this book but your review and the one short quote sold me. Off to the library to see if it is available.

  13. Superb review of what sounds like a very moving and beautifully written book.

  14. bocafrau says:

    This sounds like an interesting book. I’m always fascinated by the histories of other countries. Growing up in Germany we learned all about WW2 and other battles fought in Europe. Asia was always an afterthought it seemed and we never went deeply into it.

    • TBM says:

      I didn’t know much about Malaysia’s involvement and I’m embarrassed to admit that. World War II was my specialty in grad school. I studied the European front and sadly I didn’t explore too much due to lack of time. Now I love learning new things and broadening my horizons on my own schedule.

  15. hillarypat says:

    This seems like a book that I might enjoy. I’ll put it on my list!

  16. My knowledge of Malaysia is very limited, I’m afraid. You’ve made me want to read this, and soon.

  17. The Hook says:

    I like traveling through books. It’s cheaper and more convenient.

  18. IsobelandCat says:

    I wasn’t gripped when I heard him read the extract, but you have succeeded in making me want to read it. Thanks.

  19. Lucid Gypsy says:

    You have made it sound amazing and having visited Malaysia its very tempting but the war element, well I’m just not sure I can bear to read it.

  20. lynnsbooks says:

    High praise – I will definitely have to read this one now. Thanks for that glowing review.
    Lynn 😀

  21. petit4chocolatier says:

    I have not read the book. Beautiful summary 🙂

  22. Myra GB says:

    Sounds like a fascinating read, TBM! And an award-winning book too! Will check out whether we have this in our libraries. 🙂

  23. Geoff W says:

    Sounds like a great read and I usually think that the shortlisted novels are much more approachable than the winner. I need to practice reading slowly, there are so many books I really love the beauty of the language but I just can’t show the self restraint to savor them. I just have to know what happens.

    • TBM says:

      I know what you mean. This one helped since much of the subject matter was difficult–I had to take breaks. I suggested this book to TBH and it’s a hit! I haven’t read Mantel yet, but her novel Wolf Hall is sitting right here waiting for me.

      • Geoff W says:

        I have Wolf Hall on my shelf as well and am waiting for at least a release date for the last book in the trilogy before I start reading it, maybe.

      • TBM says:

        That’s a good plan. I doubt she cranks these out with all the research and such. I need to pick up the second one.

      • Geoff W says:

        Yeah – I’m not even sure they’ve released an expected date. I’ve got both of the first two on my Kindle as they were both on sale at some point.

  24. Fergiemoto says:

    Yes, war is brutal. Sounds like an interesting read.
    Last year I visited the site of one of the WWII Japanese Internment camps here in Utah (Topaz). It’s a gut wrenching feeling. I have relatives/ancestors who were interned in similar camps in California and Arizona during the war.

    • TBM says:

      I can only imagine that visiting the camp was difficult. I would like to see it one day. Such a horrible part of American history that is swept under the rug too often.

  25. Pingback: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng | Lynn's Book Blog

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