A former Japanese prisoner of war becomes an apprentice gardener and tries to make sense of her life
© Supreme Court judge Teoh Yun Ling retires from her role prosecuting war criminals in Kuala Lumpur and returns to the Malaysian hilltops in 1951. As a prisoner of war camp survivor Yun Ling despises all things Japanese yet she wishes to build a garden for her sister who died in the camp, and who loved the gardens of Kyoto.
The gardener is Nakamura Aritomo, self-exiled from Japan after a fallout with his employer, Emperior Hirohito. He is building Yugiri “a garden of evening mists” when he meets Yun Ling. Instead of building her garden, he offers to take her as an apprentice and teach her the art of Japanese gardening. Yun Ling accepts and the two begin a complicated and philosophical relationship.
All the characters, including a secondary character, a South African called Magnus reveal how they have been damaged by the actions of others. A theme based on remembering and forgetting is further reinforced by the fact Yun Ling suffers from aphasia. The themes are also represented by the lush plantings and serene outlook of the gardens. The stillness and silence of the valleys and hills suit the story told slowly.
Memory is like patches of sunlight in an overcast valley, shifting with the movement of the clouds. Now and then the light will fall on a particular point in time, illuminating it for a moment before the wind seals up the gap, and the world is in shadows again.
This is a sensitively told tale of cultural history and includes a good old love story. Rachel found it an ethereal read. Suzy loved the pace, the plot and the ponderous offerings, which resulted in a captivating writing style. We both enjoying learning the secrets to Japanese gardening too, the results of which represent and respect Japanese traditions and beliefs.