Monday, June 8, 2015

The Garden of Evening Mists by Tan Twan Eng

I've chosen this book because I am buddy reading this with a booktuber named Kamil from @WhatKamilReads

I love this book! I love where the premise was set in Malaya. The message. The history. The beautiful landscape of Cameron Highlands. The usage of WORDS! It is so eloquent and articulate, I can't even praise it enough to justify. This book is so rich that I have submerged myself into the history of Malaya with the advantage of me being in Malaysia myself. I did not even see the beauty of my country in that manner. I'm ashamed of myself!

The book is written in a back and forth manner between 1940s and 1980s separated by chapters. You'll kinda catch on as you're reading it progressively. It started out from the heart of Kuala Lumpur and stayed on at Cameron Highlands through out the book. I do not really want to go into the plot as this book is meant to be a journey of pain, anger, forgiveness, restoration & love. Elements of emotions are subtle but it's loudly banging in your head that these thoughts of frustrations are meant to be out there for readers like us.

'You've forgiven the British?' He subsided from his seat. For a while he was silent, his gaze turned inward. 'They couldn't kill me when we were at war. And they couldn't kill me when I was in the camp,' he said finally, his voice subdued. 'But holding on to my hatred for forty-six years... that would have killed me.' -- Magnus Pretorius

This message is common to many but coming from a prisoner of war, I find this very powerful. Holding such grudge for more than what is expected would have killed you mentally. Humanly speaking, you'll be so bitter that no one is able to communicate with you anymore!

'... but I realized that much of the women's laughter and singing rising from the slopes was bitter with the harshness of their lives.' -- Teoh Yun Ling

Some might observe the harshness of live after the war but then again, people move on with laughter and singing. Although bitterness is shown but it's performed with a sense of melodramatic bitterness with great depth to it. As the saying goes, each person has it's own story to tell.

Following the example of the old men in the shop, Frederik poured his coffee into a saucer and blew on it. 'My mother used to scold us if we did that,' I said. 'Low class, she called it.' 'But it tastes so much better like this.' He picked up the saucer and slurped noisily from it. 'Try it.' -- Frederik Pretorius

The act of drinking coffee through a saucer! My grandma used to teach me how to drink coffee like that. Low class wasn't an issue back then but GOOD coffee tasting is what we appreciated most during the hay days of me being an ignorant boy who doesn't care about who his surroundings are.

He turns to me and gives me a bow so deep I think he is going to topple over. Straightening up again, he says, 'I am sorry, for what we did to you. I am deeply sorry.'
'Your apology is meaningless,' I say, taking a step back from him. 'It's worth nothing to me.' -- Teoh Yun Ling & Yoshikawa Tatsuji

'We had no idea what my country did,' he says. 'We did not know about the massacres or the death camps, the medical experiments carried out on living prisoners, the women forced to serve in the army brothels. When I returned home after the war, I found out everything I could about what we had done. That's when I became interested in our crimes. I wanted to fill in the silence that was stifling every family of my generation.' -- Yoshikawa Tatsuji

These 2 quotes reminds me of a feud between China and Japan on the matter of what is taught in the history lessons in Japan. Many Japanese of today will NEVER know the cruelty that has happened back in World War II. It has been wiped out from their education system. WWII is a sense of pride in Japan instead of shame. So when some Japanese came to other parts of Asia and knew about the oppression of these countries through them, they never ceased to feel remorse for what has been done.

"'Young man,'" the old monk said, "'tell me: is it the wind that is in motion, or is it only the flag that is moving?'" 'What did you say?' I asked. 'I said, "Both are moving, Holy One." "The monk shook hi head, clearly disappointed by my ignorance. "One day you will realize that there is no wind, and the flag does not move," he said. "It is only the hearts and minds of men that are restless.'" -- Nakamura Aritomo

Ahh... ponder ponder~~~

The Chinese in Malaya who could not speak English looked down on us for not knowing our own ancestral tongue. - 'Eaters of the Europeans' shit,' they called us. In turn we Straits Chinese laughed at them for their uncouth ways and civil service or to rise in our colonial society. There was no need of us to know any language other than English, my father had often told us when we were growing up, because the British would rule Malaya forever. -- Teoh Yun Ling

Trust me, there are 3 types of Chinese in Malaysia today. The English speaking Chinese, the Non-English Speaking Chinese and the Chinese who speaks both but remain unanimous until asked. That last sentence is no longer applicable because Malaysia will be celebrating it's 58th year independence this coming 31st August.

'We'll never talk about this again when we get out of this place. No one will ever know,' I repeated. 'Even if we never talk about it, it'll be there in your eyes, every time I look at you.' -- Teoh Yun Ling to Teoh Yun Hong

The voice of hope & despair intertwine makes this a really good read. Emotions...

In conclusion, are we able to get out of our own prison? Do we need a metaphor to release us from such agony of anger & pain from the past. Lastly, are we killing ourselves for what we are doing to ourselves today?

Ratings: 5 out of 5 stars

Goodreads Review Link

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