Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Garden Of Evening Mists

I don't even know where to begin.  This second novel by Tan Twan Eng has made it to the Man Booker Prize short list - I believe deservedly - so I guess I can start there.  And yet, books that earn prizes often do not resonate with me.  But...oh, what splendid writing you'll find in this garden of mist.

The sky was streaked with the carnage of sunset when we came out to the yard at the back of the prison.  Hideyoshi stopped and turned his face upward, breathing in the light from the first stars of the evening.  The guards pushed him up a flight of steps to the hanging platform and positioned him beneath the noose.  They looped the rope around his neck and tightened it.  He stumbled but regained his balance.  One of the guards held up a blindfold.  Hideyhoshi shook his head.  A Buddhist monk, appointed to conduct the rites for these executions, began to pray, thumbing the string of beads twined around his fingers as line after line of prayers unreeled from his throat.  The droning washed over me.  Hideyoshi and I looked at one another until the trapdoor cracked open and he dropped into an abyss only he could see.    
 Page after page of controlled emotion, without ever being over-written:

Drawing back his right sleeve with his left hand, Aritomo picked up the teapot and filled his cup almost to the brim.  He put the teapot down in the exact spot from where he had lifted it and pivoted on his knees to face the mountains to the east.  He remained in that position for what seemed like a long time.  Then, like a flower drooping to touch the earth, he brought his head low to the floor.  Straightening his body a moment later, he held the cup in his hands and touched it to his forehead.  I left him there, giving one last farewell to the man he had once known, a man who had already traveled past the mountains and journeyed beyond the mists and the clouds.
A painting could not produce an image with any better clarity.  It isn't very often that I find myself speechless over a novel.   And so here I sit, fingers on the keyboard, not knowing what to say.

I was planning on jumping into a Margery Allingham mystery after finishing The Garden Of Evening Mists, but instead I went to the library and actually found a copy of A Gift Of Rain, Eng's first novel.  I could not believe my luck.  But I don't  think I'll begin it just yet.  I want to think about Aritomo, the gardener to the last emperor of Japan, and Teoh Yun Ling, the Chinese girl who survived a Japanese prison camp.  I think I'll linger awhile in Yugiri, the garden Aritomo created.  I can only hope there is such a place somewhere.  Listen to the last words in the book:

The lotus flowers are opening in the first rays of the sun.  Tomorrow's rain lies on the horizon, but high up in the sky something pale and small is descending, growing in size as it falls.  I watch the heron circle the pond, a leaf spiraling down to the water, setting off silent ripples across the garden.    
I can only hope there is.