The Garden of Evening Mists – Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists is the second book by Malaysian author Tan Twan Eng. I don’t remember when or why I bought it, but I’m glad I did. I will buy the author’s first book and read it; readers say it is as good as this book, or even better, I have no doubt.


The Garden of Evening Mists tells the story of Malaysia, which was invaded by the Japanese during the Second World War, and it is also an extraordinary love story. We listen to the story from Teoh Yun Ling. Ling is one of the rare survivors of the prisoner-of-war camps set up by the Japanese. While wondering why only he survived throughout the book, the reader also follows whether he can avenge his sister, whom he lost in the camp. But in the midst of all this, Ling falls in love with Aritomo. Aritomo, as you can understand from the name, is Japanese.

The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng

Ling and her sister constantly daydreamed together when they were at the camp. His sister’s biggest dream was to create a Japanese garden, despite all that had happened. After her sister’s death, Ling decides to build a Japanese garden to honour her and finds the best Japanese gardener he could find in Malaysia; Aritomo.

The two come together as Aritomo was the head gardener of the Emperor of Japan at the time and is very close to where Ling lives. What happens next presents both this extraordinary relationship and a slice of Malaysia’s history. Although the story itself is intriguing, Tan Twan Eng’s poetic language and descriptions surpass everything else. Each time I wanted to readThe Garden of Evening Mists more slowly, I read certain sentences over and over. I found myself learning a million things about both Malaysian and Japanese culture.

The Garden of Evening Mists was way above my expectations. It was a joy to read and get lost in it. I hope you’ll create time and read it as well. Enjoy!

The Garden of Evening Mists - Tan Twan Eng

The Garden of Evening Mists

Shortlisted for the MAN BOOKER PRIZE


The Garden of Evening Mists: Malaya, 1951. Yun Ling Teoh, the scarred lone survivor of a brutal Japanese wartime camp, seeks solace among the jungle-fringed tea plantations of Cameron Highlands. There she discovers Yugiri, the only Japanese garden in Malaya, and its owner and creator, the enigmatic Aritomo, exiled former gardener of the emperor of Japan. Despite her hatred of the Japanese, Yun Ling seeks to engage Aritomo to create a garden in memory of her sister, who died in the camp. Aritomo refuses but agrees to accept Yun Ling as his apprentice “until the monsoon comes.” Then she can design a garden for herself.

As the months pass, Yun Ling finds herself intimately drawn to the gardener and his art, while all around them a communist guerilla war rages. But the Garden of Evening Mists remains a place of mystery. Who is Aritomo and how did he come to leave Japan? And is the real story of how Yun Ling managed to survive the war perhaps the darkest secret of all?

Tan Twan Eng

Tan Twan Eng (b. 1972) is a Malaysian novelist. He is best known for his 2012 book The Garden of Evening Mists which won the Man Asian Literary Prize and Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction, and was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize, making Tan the first Malaysian to be recognised by all three awards.

Tan was born in Penang and grew up in Kuala Lumpur. He is of the Straits Chinese descent. Tan speaks mainly English, Penang Hokkien, and some Cantonese. Tan studied law at the University of London, and later worked as an advocate and solicitor in one of Kuala Lumpur’s leading law firms before becoming a full-time writer. He has a first-dan ranking in aikido and lives in Malaysia.

His first novel, The Gift of Rain, published in 2007, was long-listed for the Man Booker Prize. It is set in Penang before and during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in World War II. The Gift of Rain has been translated into Italian, Spanish, Greek, Romanian, Czech, Serbian, French, Russian and Hungarian.

His second novel, The Garden of Evening Mists, was published in 2012. It was shortlisted for the 2012 Man Booker Prize and won the Man Asian Literary Prize, and the Walter Scott Prize for Historical Fiction. The novel was adapted into a film starring Hiroshi Abe, Lee Sinje, John Hannah, David Oakes and Sylvia Chang and was released in 2020.

Tan has spoken at literary festivals, including the Singapore Writers Festival, the Ubud Writers Festival in Bali, the Asia Man Booker Festival in Hong Kong, the Shanghai International Literary Festival, the Perth Writers Festival, the Abbotsford Convent in Melbourne, Australia, the Franschhoek Literary Festival in South Africa, the Borders Book Festival in Melrose, Scotland, the George Town Literary Festival in Penang, the Head Read Literary Festival in Tallinn, and many more.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges: 

Read Around the World, A Great Journey

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