cover image The Garden of Evening Mists

The Garden of Evening Mists

Tan Twan Eng. Weinstein (Hachette, dist.), $15.99 trade paper (352p) ISBN 978-160286-180-0

After having endured the miseries of a Japanese internment camp during WWII, 28-year-old Yun Ling Teoh makes her way in 1951 to the only Japanese garden in her native Malaya in a bid to convince its caretaker, Nakamura Aritomo, the former gardener for the Emperor of Japan, to establish a commemorative plot for her sister who died in the camp. Though he initially refuses, Aritomo agrees to mentor Yun Ling so that she might design the garden herself. While toiling away in Yugiri, the titular "garden of evening mists," Yun Ling grows fond of Aritomo, meanwhile recalling the horrors of the camp and the difficulties of the post-WWII "Emergency" in Malaya, a prolonged period of guerrilla war whose reach creeps closer by the day. Alternating between her time with Aritomo and a future wherein the now-aged Yun Ling, fighting a degenerative brain disease, desperately seeks to preserve her memories of the garden, Eng's newest (after The Gift of Rain) has the makings of a moving and unique historical, but the novel falls flat. There is a puzzling lack of pathos, and Eng's similar treatment of the tragic and the mundane serves to downplay rather than highlight the differences between the two. As a result, there is very little%E2%80%94other than Eng's moving atmospherics and attention to detail%E2%80%94to draw readers along. (Aug.)