A good book can do many things, including making you interested in things you never had an interest in before, in people, places and events that you had up to then only a passing knowledge.
And by that token Tan Tawn Eng’s follow-up to his debut novel The Gift Of Rain is certainly a good book.
Central to the story of The Garden Of Evening Mists is the relationship between Yun Ling Teoh, a young Malayan lawyer and survivor of a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp, and Aritomo, formerly gardener to the Emperor Of Japan.
Learning that Aritomo is now living in the highlands of Malaya where he has created the only Japanese garden in the country, Yun Ling tries to persuade him to build a garden as a memorial to her sister, who died in the camp.
Aritomo refuses, but says he will take on Yun Ling as an apprentice so she can learn the principles of building a Japanese garden.
Set against the background of the communist insurgency in post-war Malaya and narrated both contemporaneously and in hindsight, it’s a beautifully written book that does a fantastic job of conjuring up time and place.
In the same way that the The Gift Of Rain offers a fascinating insight into the Japanese martial art of aikido, so does this book with the art of the Japanese garden.
As I said, it’s a book that stirs your interest in subject matter and events that you might otherwise not have much considered, but above all one that makes you want to read on to uncover the secrets of its most enigmatic characters...