In Malaya, Yun Ling's desire to build a memorial for her sister, killed at the hand of the Japanese during their occupation of Malaya, leads her to become an apprentice to Aritomo, once the gardener to the Japanese Emperor.
The main narrative starts with Yun Ling, now suffering from a degenerative disease that is destroying her memory, moving back to Yugiri, the garden she helped to create and looking back over her life. This is the start of a moving exploration of history, memory and forgiveness and the healing power of gardening.:
" 'The garden has to reach inside you. It should change your heart, sadden it, uplift it. It has to make you appreciate the impermanence of everything in life,' Isay 'That point in time just as the last leaf is about to drop, as the remaining petal is about to fall, that moment captures everything beautiful and sorrowful about life.' "
This is a beautiful book, but towards the end I felt it left too many avenues unexplored - the exact relationship between Yun Ling and Aritomo for example and his exact role during the Occupation. The vagueness around some issues fitted very well with Yun Ling's failing memory, but as a reader I often wanted to know more. I also felt that towards the end the large tatto that Aritomo gave Yun Ling took on more of a role than I felt it deserved.
Still a very worthwile read for anyone interested in Asian history or in the therapeutic value of gardening.
The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng published by Canongate.