Saturday, July 26, 2014

Review: The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng



First published:-2011

Star rating:-

"For after the rain, when with never a stain
The pavilion of Heaven is bare,
And the winds and sunbeams, with their convex gleams,
Build up the blue dome of Air
I silently laugh at my own cenotaph
And out of the caverns of rain,
Like a child from the womb, like a ghost from the tomb,
I arise, and unbuild it again."
 - P.B. Shelley

The heron preens itself majestically, perched delicately at the edge of the pond, having found the familiarity of a home at last after miles of mateless flight. Gold-flecked koi fishes dart surreptitiously just below the surface, disrupting the lotus leaves. Wisps of rain-bearing clouds and the mountains meld into each other's embrace in a rare moment to become a mist-robed goddess and render the vista an acute resemblance with aukiyo-e painting, a charming illusion not even a discerning eye can remain immune to. Unwilling to pay the dues exacted by aphasia, Yun Ling hears the fading whispers of times gone by - unspeakable horrors etched across the soft palate of her consciousness she'd dearly like to forget and fond remembrances of the ones who sustained the flame of empathy in their hearts while the symphony of death and devastation reached its crescendo all around the Malay peninsula. The beautiful and fragile landscape of Yugiri lies forgotten in the wake of Aritomo's perplexing disappearance, but his decrepit, untended garden stands as a testimony to his lifelong devotion to a dying art form, to his solemn resolve of remaining humane at a time when savagery was the norm. 

One war replaces another as the ruthless Communist guerrillas commence a new reign of terror at the end of the Japanese Occupation. Peace remains that idealized mirage in a desert, forever out of reach. The prospect of succumbing to an acute hatred of the ones who caused her misery tempts, but Yun Ling struggles to hold on to her sanity and conscience in the grey abyss trapped between light and dark. Her faith in Aritomo wavers time and again but she lets her skin become the last canvass of his horimono art anyway. 

Did Aritomo's loyalty lie with Emperor Hirohito all along? Or had he simply ignored the obligations imposed by notions of race, gender, skin color, and nationality to respond to that primordial voice of reason every time it had called out to him to do the right thing? Will Yun Ling ever be able to forgive herself for surviving the atrocities that claimed her sister's life? Will Yun Hong find the peace and dignity in death that she was denied as a 'comfort woman' at the hands of her Japanese captors? 

In her twilight years, Yun Ling realizes that these questions will continue to ricochet off the walls of her consciousness time and again until the day she breathes her last. But she is no longer haunted by their echoes. The war had claimed victims on all sides and nearly every one was complicit in the collective barbarity of it all. Her festering psychological wounds will never truly heal but she finds contentment in calm acceptance of this baffling duality of life - the juxtaposed coexistence of kindness and cruelty, love and loathing, memory and oblivion, the human capacity for creation and destruction. 

"Are all of us the same, I wonder, navigating our lives by interpreting the silences between words spoken, analysing the returning echoes of our memory in order to chart the terrain, in order to make sense of the world around us?"

Reconciled to history's ironies, Yun Ling now knows that the world will forever rotate on its axis of disastrous decisions and terrible consequences for all. The relentless flow of time will weather away all the damage that had seemed indelible once. Remembering Aritomo's words, she will cling to a greater purpose with every last bit of strength if and when the cycle of madness starts all over again. Because nestled in the heart of the mountains in Tanah Rata lies the frayed dream of her refuge from the brutalities of the outside world - the slumbering garden of evening mists which patiently waits for her to awaken it to the magical touch of life once again.


   photo C136E66569D294E4D5DA2D8124D4FF69.png

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